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NWSA, A History 2009 – 30th National Conference

Thursday, May 28, 2020  
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Cover of the 2009 conference program book

30th National Conference | "Difficult Dialogues" | November 12-15, 2009 | Atlanta, Georgia

Program Highlights

The 30th National Conference in 2009 – provocatively themed as "Difficult Dialogues" – centered the contentious histories of the Association, of the field, and of the movement. In the words of then-NWSA President Beverly Guy-Sheftall, "[T]his work is difficult and ongoing, and we don't pretend that NWSA always practices what it preaches. We also recognize that women's studies as a field continues to engage in struggles around racism and white supremacy in a variety of ways. l believe that NWSA can provide leadership as we continue to engage in difficult dialogues around difference." With that purpose, the cultural and extracurricular programming took a backseat, while the sessions were packed with difficult dialogues.

The conference keynote address was given by Black feminist and long-time active member of NWSA Angela Davis, while readings by writers and artists Pearl Cleage and Natasha Trethewey made up the Plenary Session. The President Sessions (introduced in 2006) continued to grow in prominence within the regular structure of the NWSA National Conference. With speakers like Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Kimberlé Crenshaw, the Presidential Sessions highlighted critical questions for the future of feminism and feminist studies, with emphases on the contributions and futures of Black and transnational feminisms. Below are the sessions, their description, and their speakers.

    "Collaboration as Feminist Praxis"
    Chandra Talpade Mohanty and M. Jacqui Alexander
    M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty have been engaged in a 20-year collaborative relationship that has led to some of the most germinal work to date in the field of Women's & Gender studies. They will engage in a conversation about the nature of collaborative research and curricular practices, transnational feminisms and alliances, how they see this work as central to the field of Women's and Gender Studies, and how they have come together in their work to engage in their own forms of "difficult dialogues."

    "Intersectionality Reexamined"
    Bonnie Thornton Dill and Kimberlé Crenshaw
    Kimberlé Crenshaw and Bonnie Thornton Dill will return to some of the pressing questions and key issues raised in their earlier work and also to discuss the ways in which intersectionality has (or has not been) taken up in the field of Women's Studies today. They will engage in a conversation about their work, share individual reflections, and consider questions from the audience.

    "Celebrating Black Feminist Scholarship: Book Launch and Conversation with the Editors"
    Frances Smith Foster, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Stanlie M. James, Rudolph P. Byrd, and Johnnetta Betsch Cole
    Join the editors of Still Brave: Legendary Black Women on Race and Gender and I am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde for a conversation and book signing celebrating the release of these important texts that examine black feminist scholarship, its evolution, and its relationship to broader social and political movements.

Unlike the previous years, the 2009 conference program laid out the intentions and purposes of each of the conference subthemes. Below are their titles, descriptions, and examples of relevant sessions.

    Theme 1: Thinking, Speaking, and Working Margin to Margin
    In order to shift terrains of power and to engage in meaningful and transformative coalitions, feminist scholars of color continue to articulate the challenges of working across difference in contexts of marginalization. While moving "from margin to center" remains elusive, less visible are the complexities of thinking, speaking, and working margin to margin. To work "margin to margin" is to conceive of liminality as a coalitional space (and not as a singular or homogenous one), to acknowledge and address questions of power and oppression among and across different margins, and to engage in a new politics of difference that accounts for the difficulties women at the margins confront when they attempt to find common ground and build alliances.
    • "The Silent Economy of Working Margin to Margin: The Gendered Labor of Service"
    • "The Case of the Pregnant Man: Examining Transgender Identity, Reproduction and Cultural Politics in the New Millennium"
    • "(De)colonial Epistemological Dialogues: Women of Color Spatial Theorizing and the Production of Transnational Queer Subjectivities"

    Theme 2: lntersectionality as Theory, Method and Politics
    A multiracial feminist approach to gender equity and liberation necessarily begins at the intersection or at the matrix of identities and of systems of domination. Intersectionality accounts for simultaneous privilege and oppression and refuses any hierarchy of oppressions or of identity. Intersectional feminist politics are coalitional and focus on a collective approach to freedom. In the United States, what we now call an 'intersectional' model of feminist analysis and politics has a long trajectory: a complex genealogy of intersectionality as concept and practice can be traced among women of color feminisms in particular.
    • "Obama-mania and Feminist Intersectional Politics"
    • "Using Intersectionality to Analyze the Commodification of Sex, Love and Care"
    • "Food as More than Metaphor: Intersectionality, Pedagogy, Food, and Social Justice in the Feminist Classroom"

    Theme 3: Reconceptualizing Women's Studies within the Transnational
    In a time of heightened nationalism, ramped up surveillance, security, and war, transnational perspectives on women's studies and on feminist alliances and knowledges are imperative. A geopolitical approach to gender politics that does not homogenize gender within a reductive global sisterhood, but instead accounts for power asymmetries within the transnational, including past colonial relations and current neocolonizing practices, is likewise requisite if WS is to engage more meaningfully with questions about how race, nation, and ethnicity are foundational to understanding issues of gender and sexuality, past and present.
    • "Unlikely Spaces, Unlikely Faces: How Nationalisms Underpin Contemporary Imaginings of Citizenship, Family, and Environment"
    • "Why do Liberatory Dialogues Become Difficult? Tensions Between US-Focused Intersectional Approaches and Transnational Feminisms"
    • "Difficult Dialogues in the Age of Militarized and Economic Terror: Feminist Research, Pedagogy and Activism post 9/11"

    Theme 4: Negotiating the Politics of Memory
    Issues of public memory, collective memory, and personal memory have been central to feminist scholarship and activism. Focusing on the politics of memory raises questions about whose stories, voices, lives, and histories have been documented (in what ways and by whom) versus whose have been ignored (in what ways and by whom). Engaging with the politics of memory means examining who has been conceived as an agent of history and whose subjectivity has been acknowledged as agential: it also means documenting and exploring the ways in which marginalized groups have sought to shift or to transform memory.
    • "Geopolitical Segregation, Amnesia and Collective Struggle: Collaborative Praxes Towards Substantive Justice"
    • "I Know by Heart: Women and Memory in the Hispanic World"
    • "Double-Crossing the Border: 'Queer' Interventions in Public Memory"

    Theme 5: Women's Studies 40 Years Later: Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?
    2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the first WS program in the US: this occasion marks a pivotal moment in which to reflect on the state of the field and its practices, past and present.
    • "Translating Feminist Pedagogy into Online Introductory Women's Studies Classes"
    • "What's In a Name? Women Studies or Women and Gender Studies or Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies?"
    • "Women's Studies and the 'Origins' of Institutionality: Engaging Difficulty, Critiquing Foundationalism"

List of 2009 program committee members

See the full program here

From the NWSA President

Dear Colleagues,

I'm eager to share news of changes underway at the National Women's Studies Association, where I am serving as President until June 2010, and pleased to welcome you to the 2009 conference in Atlanta. The conference theme is "Difficult Dialogues."

NWSA Commitment to Scholarship
NWSA adopted a strategic plan in June 2007 that made central the organization's commitment to providing support and resources for women's and gender studies scholars. It established a Research Scholars' Advisory Board, which I chaired, in order to bring women's studies scholars into the planning process. NWSA also adopted key suggestions proposed by that group, from moving the annual conference to November to enhancing the role of the NWSA President to serve as an intellectual leader of the organization, especially via conference program planning.

NWSA Commitment to the Development of the Field
NWSA has made important changes to its conference planning and proposal review process in recent years. For example, NWSA began offering invited Presidential sessions in 2006 to feature important theoretical work by established and emerging scholars in the field of women's studies. The Association receives more than 900 proposals and the conference program committee coordinates an anonymous online review process.

NWSA Commitment to Anti-Racism Work
NWSA makes active and ongoing efforts to dismantle racism and white supremacy in its structure and programs. For example, the NWSA Governing Council engages in anti-racism training annually as part of its board development work, and has a thriving Women of Color Leadership Project that is intended to provide support and training for women of color interested in program, center, and NWSA leadership. To be sure, this work is difficult and ongOing, and we don't pretend that NWSA always practices what it preaches. We also recognize that women's studies as a field continues to engage in struggles around racism and white supremacy in a variety of ways. l believe that NWSA can provide leadership as we continue to engage in difficult dialogues around difference.

I am excited about NWSA's future and the role you can play in its evolution, and once again I welcome you to the conference.


Beverly Guy-Sheftall
NWSA President and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies, Spelman College

NWSA Governance

Below are the 2009 NWSA governance members, as well as the NWSA staff team. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

2009 Governance Members

See the rest of the history project here

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NWSA Program Archives

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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.