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NWSA, A History – 1988 10th National Conference

Tuesday, April 28, 2020  
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Cover of the 1988 conference program book

10th National Conference | "Leadership and Power: Women's Alliances for Social Change" | June 22-26, 1988 | University of Minnesota | Minneapolis, MN

Program Highlights

The tenth Annual NWSA National Conference 1988 was marked again by the power of its constituency groups. Not only did the African-American Women Task Force become a caucus this year, six new task forces were formed: Anti-Apartheid, Asian and Asian-American Women, Chicana/Latina Women, Indigenous and Native American Women, and Academic Discrimination. Themed as, "Leadership and Power: Women's Alliances for Social Change," the conference's plenaries took on the brunt of the alliance work, while the sessions worked through issues of power, empowerment, and leadership. Given that power and empowerment are ambiguous and contestable within the field, here are some examples of how conference presenters were conceptualizing their approaches to issues of power:

    Empowering Older Women
    This session explores the changing roles and challenges facing elderly women and various programs designed for empowering older women in the U.S. and Ghana.

    Empowering the Curriculum: Multiplicity in Gender Integration
    Panel members speak about their experiences with empowering and positive gender integration projects, focusing on where and how alliances were formed and how different types of leadership emerged among students as a result of gender integration.

    Metaphoric Marginality: Contesting the Power of the Center in Contemporary Art
    Using a contemporary literary deconstruction model from a radical feminist perspective, this workshop proposes to identify the power of the center in contemporary art as phallocentric and demonstrate how female artists are attempting to disengage and deconstruct this power.

    Capitalist Development, Women's Position and Empowerment for Social Change
    This workshop examines the consequences of capitalist development in the Pacific Rim Region on the structural position of women and the implications of these patterns for the leadership, alliance and empowerment of women for social change.

    The Threatened Social Power of Native American Women
    This panel discusses the conflicts of spirituality and the threatened loss of authority for Native American Women.

    Home is Where the Art Is: Expressions of Inversion, Resistance and the Negotiation of Power in the Domestic Sphere
    This workshop examines the ways in which women's domestic expressive behavior becomes a means of negotiating and critiquing gender identity within and between households.

    Women in Prisons: Organization and Social Change
    This session addresses the need to develop services for women in prison and examines activism and the experiences of power or powerlessness for incarcerated women.

    How Do We Study Women's Lives? Towards a Self-Reflexive Methodology
    This discussion-oriented session explores feminist research methodology regarding such issues as empowerment vs. objectification; engagement and advocacy VS. the objectivity of orthodox scholarship; and speaking from a decentered position of acknowledged, vested interest VS. an authoritative position that perpetuates Eurocentric, sexist, racist and classist power relations.

    Women with Disabilities: Powerlessness Power
    This session explores the social, economic, political and psychological status of women with disabilities from both an historical and a current perspective and examines the status of powerlessness in which women with disabilities continue to exist.

    Personal Transformation as Basis for Political Empowerment
    This workshop asks participants to consider and share various community organizing strategies that have been successful in embracing the diversity of the Gay and lesbian community thereby creating alliances and providing unity on many levels and issues.

Directly confronting questions of alliance across differences and its ability to effect social change, the three plenaries were sponsored by constituency groups. Here are their titles and sponsors:

    Diverse Leadership for Social Change
    American Indian Women's plenary

    Alliances for Social Change: International Voices
    International Women's plenary

    Lesbian Alliances: Combatting Heterosexism in the 80's
    Lesbian plenary

The conference also organized three plenary-like series of sessions: The Heritage Series, the Writers' Series, and Writing Our Worlds. Though little context is given for these series in the program book, much can still be gleaned – including the emphasis on alliance-building – from the presenters and programming. The Heritage Series, sponsored by the Minnesota Humanities Commission, is best explained by the abstract of one of its four sessions:

The Heritage Series: Heritage as Concept in History and Literature This workshop will discuss how the concept of heritage changes when we study the history, philosophy and literature of different cultures and expose traditional humanities assumptions about the study of American culture as a homogenous one.

With that analytic framework, the other Heritage Series sessions covered:

    "American Indian Women and Language"
    "American Indian Women's Leadership Models"
    "American Indian Women as Authors and Critics"
    "African American Women and the Black Diaspora"
    "Las Historias: Our Stories/Our Histories"
    "Women's Identity, Diversity and the Creation of Feminist Literature"

The Writers' Series featured conversations between emerging Minnesota women writers and women writers several books into their careers, all including Judith McDaniel, Mitsuye Yamada, Davida Kilgore, Meridel LeSueur, Beatrice Culleton, and Sandra King. Writing Our Worlds offered conversations between acclaimed voices within the field: Gloria Anzaldúa and Beth Brant; Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich; and Cheryl Clarke and Michelle Parkerson.



See the full program here

From the National Coordinator

Dear NWSA Conference Participant: Last year in Atlanta, I invited many of you to celebrate NWSA's tenth anniversary as an association. This year, we have yet another historical marker to acknowledge as we gather together at the University of Minnesota. NWSA is hosting its tenth consecutive national conference, "Leadership and Power: Women's Alliances for Social Change."

In two decades of organizing women's studies programs and expanding public knowledge about feminist issues, we have learned a lot about social change. How it's done. Why it usually comes so slowly. What produces deep structural transformations. In the process, we also discovered that we needed a national organization, one of our own design which we controlled, that would insure our movement is visibility and credibility, and yet provide us with a national network and clearinghouse. So we learned something about leadership.

We continue to learn together about power. How to get it. How to wield it. How to transform it. We have learned about power that has always been ours, and we are exploring how to use it in our modern world. We are learning about power that has always been denied us, especially political and economic power, and we are claiming it as our due.

Most importantly, we have begun to ask ourselves two questions about power: power to do what? and for whom? In asking those questions we have sought greater alliances with other women, women with whom we may share differences but through whom we discover our common heritage as women. Our plenaries on international women, American Indian women, and lesbians reflect those commonalities and those differences.

Thanks to more than a year of hard work by the Minnesota conference staff, we will have five days to discuss, debate, and define leadership, power, alliances, and social change. Welcome to Minnesota as we forge our common futures together.

In sisterhood,
Caryn McTighe Musil
National Director


Thank You from the Conference Steering Committee

The annual conference of NWSA provides the major forum for exchanging information and ideas about individual women's struggles and achievements, feminist scholarship and women's movements toward social justice. Working within a committee structure of paid staff, community volunteers and university professors and administrators, the planners of "Leadership and Power: Women's Alliances for Social Change" have built a coalition of many different women. We believe that in building alliances, we create powerful vehicles for both individual and institutional change. We hope that this 1988 program offers you an exciting and challenging array of issues and perspectives. It has been our goal throughout the two years of planning this conference, to not only forge connections now, but to establish ongoing coalitions that wiII carry on beyond these days together.

We want to recognize the Central Administration of the University of Minnesota for their financial support which allowed us to employ five graduate research assistants. We especially want to thank the Department of Professional Development and Conference Services at the University of Minnesota for their professional expertise, hospitality, and unshakable belief in doing a women's conference of this size.

To all of you whose names appear on the following page, the 1988 NWSA conference Steering Committee wishes you a hearty THANK YOU for devoting time and energy to this event. This list includes the core committees and their members who have assisted in the planning of "Leadership and Power: Women's Alliances for Social Change." However, the program book went to press weeks before the beginning of the conference so, to all of you whose names do not appear, we know we could not have persisted without you.

In sisterhood,

NWSA '88 Steering Committee

Lisa Albrecht
Sherrole Benton
Rose Brewer
Alicia Del Campo
Sally M. Gordon
Lori Graven
Judith Hence
Sophronia Liu
Pam Marshall
Jessica Morgan
Naomi Scheman
Anne Truax


NWSA Coordinating Council

Before there was a Governing Council, NWSA was led by the Coordinating Council. Below are the first council members, as well as the NWSA staff team. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.


1988 Coordinating Council Members
1988 Coordinating Council Members

See the rest of the history project here

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About the Writer

Victoria Agunod is the office assistant at the National Women's Studies Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program at DePaul University. Victoria received their BA and MA in Women's and Gender Studies at DePaul. They first attended NWSA in 2018 and presented their research on university students organizing for racial justice against the new alt-right galvanized by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They joined the NWSA team the following year. Their teaching emphases are on women of color feminisms, racial justice movements and organizing, and neoliberal rhetorical and cultural influences.

Please note: The information compiled in this project comes from the archived conference programs at the University of Maryland, College Park.