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NWSA, A History 2014 – 35th National Conference

Thursday, June 11, 2020  
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Cover of the 2014 conference program book

35th National Conference | "Feminist Transgressions" | November 13-16 | San Juan, Puerto Rico

Program Highlights

NWSA's 35th National Conference in 2014, "Feminist Transgressions," took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the conference's first location outside the mainland U.S. The setting in a nation not only under-resourced, abused, and denied sovereignty by the U.S. but also historically rich with its people's political movements against imperialism "provide[d] an important opportunity to imagine the potentials of feminist transgressions around questions of indigeneity, empire, the citizen subject, militarism, and ongoing strategies of resistance," as then-NWSA President Yi-Chun Tricia Lin offered in her welcome letter. Rooted in these questions, the Plenary Sessions built connections across colonized borders: Kamala Kempadoo, Ana-Maurine Lara, and Ana Irma Rivera Lassén spoke on "Creating Justice: Caribbean Scholarship and Activisms," and Angela Davis, Islah Jad, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty spoke on "The Imperial Politics of Nation-States: U.S., Israel, and Palestine." Other papers and sessions on the politics of Puerto Rico include:

    "Accumulation by Dispossession: Finance, Foreclosure, and the High Cost of Reproduction in Puerto Rico"
    Laura Briggs, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
    Early in 2014, Puerto Rico’s credit rating was downgraded to “junk bond” status, and mainland investors watched with unabashed glee as Puerto Rico prepared to borrow its way out of the resulting crisis of rising interest rates, structuring high-yield bonds with guarantees against default granted by Puerto Rico’s status as an “unincorporated territory.” This paper uses Harvey’s notion of “accumulation by dispossession” to think about Puerto Rico’s disproportionate and growing foreclosure rate, which the current crisis accelerates. Following the argument of reproductive justice scholars that all conditions necessary to raise children are reproductive politics issues, I ask: how can we develop a feminist analytics of empire, race, and foreclosure that begins with Puerto Rican mothers and children who have lost their homes?

    "Neoliberal Mass Culture and Gendered Violence"
    Nalini Natarajan, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
    Focusing on recent incidents of violence against women, this paper looks at the logic of neoliberalism that enables such violence, and the contradiction between the liberal agenda of feminism, and the particular avatar of neoliberalism we now inhabit. The paper is particularly interested in the global context of mass media fueled by a neoliberal aesthetic that travels borderless and unchecked (Ella Shohat, Robert Stam, Teresa de Lauretis). The cultural products of global neoliberalism, consumed out of context in other sites, cause untold damage with an effect especially in escalating violence against women, with examples from the Caribbean and South Asia.

    "Crisis and Opportunity in Puerto Rico: Grassroots Women Forge New Futures"
    Maritza Stanchich, University of Puerto Rico
    This paper shows grassroots movement women in Puerto Rico working for economic renewal independent of the neoliberal state during the worst crisis of decades in this US territory of 3.8 million US citizens, and 4.6 million stateside, as the government enacts austerity measures similar to Greece and Portugal, and compared to Detroit. Abandoning the state, many activists build parallel sustainable projects. This focuses on women in small initiatives, enlarged in related terms, as seen in work by Grace Lee Boggs and Boanventura de Sousa Santos, from a view Dana-Ain Davis and Christa Craven call feminist activist ethnography.

    "Taking it to the Streets: Puerto Rican Women in Chicago and the Struggle for School Equality"
    Mirelsie Velazquez, University of Oklahoma
    In this paper I highlight the ways in which Puerto Rican women in Chicago in the 1940’s to 1970’s, through their various roles within and outside of the home, aided in the development of their local communities, sometimes transcending racial and class differences in order to gain a sense of stability for Puerto Ricans in the city, especially their own school-age children, through community engagement and activism. Schools, I will argue, became a vehicle for these women to critically engage in the development of their communities in ways denied to them before along gendered lines.

    "Female Protesters and Misrecognition in Puerto Rico"
    Guillermo Rebollo-Gil, Universidad del Este
    This paper reflects on a televised complaint made by a young Puerto Rican mother that was negatively portrayed in the local press, perceived by the public as an unfortunate and distasteful speech act. The paper in turn proposes a reading of the event as a political protest in order to question the ethics and aesthetics of contemporary oppositional movements in Puerto Rico.

    "Historical Band-Aids: Transgressing Boundaries to Create Social Healing"
    Adia Heisser, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
    Anglo-U.S. imperialism has systematically dehumanized colonialized communities by disrupting intergenerational cultural transmission, resulting in internalized colonialism within oppressed cultures. In an attempt to counteract this insidious cultural genocide, Puerto Rican third-space feminist Aurora Levins Morales promotes using “medicinal stories” to heal these societies. She identifies the viability of literature to transgress against colonial structures that dehumanize women of color. Choctaw writer LeAnn Howe does this in her novel Shell Shaker by deploying creative writing to transform how Choctaw identity and history are known. This paper constructs a dialogue between Levins Morales and Howe exploring the humanizing value of medicinal history.

    "The Dissonance of Blackness in Domestic Violence Law in Puerto Rico"
    Judith Rodriguez, University of California, Irvine
    While The Prevention and Intervention of Domestic Violence Act (Law 54) provides the juridical protections for women within a wide range of consensual relationships in Puerto Rico, its interpretations reveal otherwise. Through a close feminist reading of legal cases, I illuminate the methods by which Law 54’s interpretations possess a mystical quality that allows for a transfiguration of Law 54’s own ungendered and neutralized language. I argue that Law 54’s interpretations not only extend but constrain this language in order to reinforce the performative effects that constitute the Puerto Rican nuclear family structure as the whitened impasse for its protections.

    "To Appeal or Appall: Women who Protest in Puerto Rico"
    Ariadna Godreau, American Civil Liberties Union
    This paper will analyze how gender expectations condition the perception, popularity and effectiveness of protests, specifically in contexts where women are the majority of the dissenting mass. It will be sustained that gender discourses and stereotypes applied to the women protestors determine the claims directed toward the State and the willingness State representative demonstrate towards conciliation and/or resolution of a given conflict.

The 2014 conference program was led by a Keynote Address from renowned Black feminist thinker, poet, and scholar bell hooks, whose canonical 1994 book, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, most likely informed the conference's title theme. The Authors Meet Critics sessions also continued this year with Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva's Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism, and National Identity in Post-Emancipation Puerto Rico; Lynne Huffer's Are the Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex; Jennifer C. Nash's The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography; and Suzanna Danuta Walters' The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality. And, as a call back to earlier years of joint Constituency Group events, the Women of Color, Lesbian, and South Asian Feminist Caucuses collaborated on an open mic night "to harness the creativity for women of color from the US and around the globe to entertain and enlighten all NWSA participants."

List of 2014 program committee members

See the full program here

From the NWSA President

As National Women’s Studies Association president and conference co-chair, I am delighted to welcome you to Feminist Transgressions.

We have nearly 2,000 registrants and more than 500 breakout sessions, making NWSA 2014 our largest conference ever!

I want to highlight two important changes we have made to accommodate this amazing turnout of feminist scholars:

  • The general conference opens on Thursday, November 13 at 1 PM and continues through Sunday, November 16 at 1:15 PM, so plan to arrive early and stay through Sunday to be sure you don’t miss any cutting- edge sessions.
  • bell hooks’ keynote address will take place from 7-9 PM on Friday, November 14.

Note that the Program Administration and Development, Women’s Center, and Women of Color Leadership Project pre-conference events will take place as always from 9-5 PM on Thursday, November 13.

The conference endeavors to take up the histories, geographies, affective dimensions, and political stakes of various feminist insubordinations in the spaces they occupy: intellectual and institutional, local and global, public and intimate, by choice and under duress. Mobilizing the multivalent concept of transgression helps reframe interrogations and impositions into those locations where we labor, love, defy, resist, protest, play, create, and/or celebrate.

Our meeting location in San Juan, Puerto Rico provides an important opportunity to imagine the potentials of feminist transgressions around questions of indigeneity, empire, the citizen subject, militarism, and ongoing strategies of resistance.

The program committee and staff have worked hard to provide a dynamic program, which I hope you will find both thought-provoking and invigorating. As I move to the conclusion of my term as president of the association, I must underscore that I remain excited, as ever, about NWSA’s future and the role we can play together in its growth, and once again I welcome you to the conference.


Yi-Chun Tricia Lin
NWSA President 2012-2014
Professor of Women’s Studies
Southern Connecticut State University

NWSA Governance

Below are the 2014 NWSA governance members. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

2014 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.