News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History 2017 – 38th National Conference

Tuesday, June 16, 2020  
Share |
Cover of the 2017 conference program book

38th National Conference | "Forty Years After Combahee: Feminist Scholars and Activists Engage the Movement for Black Lives” | November 16-19 | Baltimore, Maryland

Program Highlights

The 38th NWSA National Conference in 2017 celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black lesbian feminists whose iconic statement on the negligence of the white-dominated feminist movement and the male-dominated Black liberation movement toward Black women's issues and the need for an understanding of interlocking systems of oppression. If we could replicate the programming of the this conference every year, we would still learn more and more—as we always have from the Combahee River Collective. This anniversary celebration for the Collective affirmed the historic and continuing contributions of Black women to the feminist movement and the field of women's, gender, and sexuality studies.

Along with the Keynote address given by long-time radical Black feminist and prison-abolitionist Angela Davis and co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter Alicia Garza, the Plenary and Presidential Sessions worked to bring together the voices of many major women of color thinkers and activists, including Combahee River Collective members Barbara Smith, Demita Frazier, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. There was so much to discuss that this year's conference was the first with more than the usual one or two Presidential Sessions of past conferences.

    Plenary – "Combahee Revisited, Movement for Black Lives & Current State of Black Feminist Organizing and Leadership: Intergenerational Conversation"
    Speakers: Beverly Guy-Sheftall (mod.), Charlene A. Carruthers, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Demita Frazier, Mary Hooks, Margo Okazawa-Rey, and Barbara Smith
    This intergenerational panel will bring together some of the original members of the Combahee River Collective, including CRC statement co-author Barbara Smith, along with leaders of the Movement for Black Lives and #Sayhername, to talk about the history of Black feminist organizing and the impact of the Combahee River Collective statement on Black feminist praxis today.

    Plenary – "Global Context and National Connections"
    Speakers: Marsha Darling (mod.), Gina Dent, Tara Houska, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
    Transnational solidarity and anti-imperialism were core principles of the Combahee River Collective statement and are very much a part of the political practice of the Movement for Black Lives. This plenary will explore the character and challenges of transnational solidarities in the struggle for Palestinian autonomy, indigenous rights, immigrant rights, decolonial praxis, and anti-police violence organizing.

    Presidential Session – "The 2017 Women’s Marches and the Future of Feminism"
    Speakers: Leena Odeh (mod.), Linda Sarsour, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Thenjiwe McHarris
    Feminist organizers have been some of the most visible and vocal respondents to the election of the 45th president of the United States. The January 21 March, on the day of the inauguration, drew historic numbers of protesters. On March 8th a women’s strike further mobilized feminists with an emphasis on anti-imperialist, working-class solidarity and anti-racism. The post-election mobilizations have revived old debates and sparked new ones that focus on the parameters and priorities of feminist politics. This panel will look at feminist organizing in the era of Trump.

    Presidential Session – "Prison Abolition, Mass Incarceration and Black Feminism: What’s the Connection?: 20th Anniversary of Critical Resistance"
    Speakers: Angela Davis, Beth Richie, Mariame Kaba, and Asha Rosa Ransby-Sporn
    Black feminists have been in the forefront the fight against mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex for decades, often operating within an abolitionist framework. How does their feminist politics inform abolition and how has this been evident in the work of groups like Critical Resistance, founded in 1997 and INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, founded three years later? Moreover, what are the ruptures and continuities in today’s Movement for Black Lives’ call for “a world without police”?

    Presidential Session – "20 Years Since “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens”
    Speakers: Cathy Cohen, Sarah Haley, C. Riley Snorton, Jennifer D. Jones, and Katherine Acey
    The anniversary of Cathy Cohen’s paradigm-shifting article offers an opportunity to reflect on the frame of intersectionality, centering a radical Black queer feminist politic as it relates to theory and practice over the past two decades and how the issues raised in the article play out in the political landscape of 2017.

    Presidential Session – "‘We Would Have To Fight The World’: The Global Influence & Afterlife of the Combahee River Collective"
    Speakers: Grace Sanders Johnson, Regine Michelle Jean-Charles, Vanessa Y. Perez, Z’étoile Imma, and Salamishah Tillet
    From the outset, the Combahee River Collective’s statement was inclusive, expansive, and global. “The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges upon the lives of women, Third World and working people,” they wrote. This conversation considers how the Combahee River Collective (CRC) redefined our very meaning of “the global” and influenced feminist movements inside and beyond the United States. We will focus on the CRC’s impact on the following: Haitian feminist manifestos (Grace Sanders Johnson); the Movement for Dominican Women of Haitian Descent (Regine Jean-Charles); Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s “This Bridge Called My Back” (Vanessa Pérez-Rosario); the political identity and site of the “Black Lesbian” in and beyond South Africa, Uganda, and the U.S. (Z’etoile Imma); and how Harriet Tubman’s raid at the Combahee River is taken up by contemporary black feminist artists to reimagine resistance in the black global South (Salamishah Tillet).

    Presidential Session – "Relearning Solidarities: Challenges from Dalit Feminisms"
    Speakers: Richa Nagar, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Dia Da Costa, Nishant Upadhyay, Sayan Bhattacharya, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Chinnaiah Jangam, and Sanober Umar
    This roundtable seeks to launch a serious conversation in US/Canadian academic feminist sites that are commited to bringing caste into conversation with race and indigeneities to rethink transnational and translocal feminist solidarities. We ask: How can debates and insights from dalit studies (e.g., Tharu 2003, Stephen 2009, and others) allow us to approach race and indigeneities transnationally in ways that grapple with settler colonialisms in and beyond North America? How might lessons about engaging questions of identity, situated solidarities, and justice in the context of black and indigeneous feminisms in North America allow us to deepen our engagements with dalit feminisms?

The 2017 conference's Authors Meet Critics sessions were also comprised of Black feminist work: Andrea Ritchie's Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color; Christen A. Smith's Afro-Paradise: Blackness, Violence and Performance in Brazil; Tiyi M. Morris's Womanpower Unlimited and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi; Brittney Cooper's Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women; and Terrion Williamson's Black Cuban Underground Hip Hop: Black Thoughts, Black Revolution, Black Modernity.

See the full program here

From the NWSA President

Dear Colleagues,

As National Women’s Studies Association president and conference co-chair with my dear colleague and friend, Professor Premilla Nadasen, I am delighted to welcome you to 40 Years After Combahee: Feminist Scholars and Activists Engage the Movement for Black Lives. We have over 2,000 registrants and over 500 breakout sessions, making NWSA 2017 one of our largest conferences ever! You can find the complete schedule at

We come together at precarious moment in time. It will be a little over a year since the historic U.S. presidential election that propelled us into a new and frightening political climate. Since our last conference many of our members have been engaged in organizing teach-ins, writing op eds., hosting conferences, and writing books that have advanced the principles of justice and inclusion, and defended our students and colleagues who have been under attack. Our feminist scholarship, teaching and activism are more important than ever. We will come together in Baltimore to share, to celebrate, to debate, to build intellectual community, and to fortify ourselves for the road that lies ahead.

NWSA is an organization of feminist scholars and scholar-activists that emerged out of the social movements of the 1960s and 70s. It is fitting then that since our 40th anniversary conference will take place in Baltimore, the site of the massive Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of 2015, and in the year that marks the 40th anniversary of the Black feminist manifesto, the Combahee River Collective (CRC) statement, that the theme of our annual gathering will be: “40 years after Combahee: Feminist Scholars and Activists Engage the Movement for Black Lives.”

The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), also referred to as the Black Lives Matter Movement, is a Black-led movement, comprised of multiple organizations, with widespread support in people of color and progressive white communities in the United States as well as internationally. Solidarity actions and delegations have linked M4BL to Palestine, Brazil, Canada, England and South Africa, as well as the immigration rights movement and indigenous and First Nations’ struggles across North America. Significantly, this is the first mass movement with such a broad reach that is being led by young Black feminist organizers, many of them queer and trans. They have reconfigured how we think about race, gender, sexuality, violence, politics, and power in the 21st century. Many of the leaders of that movement will join us in Baltimore.

I’m thrilled about our exciting keynote conversation between Angela Davis and Alicia Garza and dynamic plenaries (see, Authors Meet Critics sessions, pre- conferences, receptions, and other events.

I’d also like to draw your attention to our extended Membership Assembly meeting, which will take place on Saturday, November 18 from 12:30-1:30 PM with a stand-alone program slot. We want to ensure that NWSA members have an opportunity to share concerns and ideas with one another as well as NWSA leaders.

The conference committee and staff have worked very hard to develop a dynamic program, which I hope you will find both thought provoking and invigorating. I am excited about NWSA’s future and the role we can play together in its growth, and once again welcome you to the conference.


Barbara Ransby
NWSA President 2016-18
Distinguished Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History University of Illinois at Chicago

NWSA Governance

Below are the 2017 NWSA governance members. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

2017 Governance Members

See the rest of the history project here

Have any pictures, stories, or fun facts from past conferences? Let us know! Email us at

If you'd like to help us keep making NWSA history, consider donating!


NWSA Program Archives

banner image of

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.