News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History 2019 – 40th National Conference

Friday, June 19, 2020  
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Cover of the 2019 conference program book

40th National Conference | “Protest, Justice, and Transnational Organizing” | November 14-17 | San Francisco, California

Program Highlights

With more registrants than ever before, the 40th NWSA National Conference in 2019 was the largest NWSA Conference to date. The conference's theme, “Protest, Justice, and Transnational Organizing,” spoke to the immense response of leftist, anti-racist organizers in the wake of 45's presidency and the consequential outpouring of xenophobic, anti-Black, Islamophobic, and misogynist hate across the U.S. and elsewhere. The theme sought to provide further space for centering feminist and anti-racist organizing efforts and for pushing U.S.-centric perspectives to recognize the transnational implications and experiences of U.S. politics. The Keynote, Plenary, and Presidential Sessions for the 2019 conference were given by queer and of color organizers, scholars, and artists who spoke to the importance of collective organizing across national borders.

    Keynote: Reading by Arundhati Roy from My Seditious Heart Conversation with Arundhati Roy and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
    Plenary: "Centering Resistance, Animating Movement"
    Speakers: Moya Bailey (mod.), Lateefah Simon, Noura Erakat, Michelle Téllez, Talila A. Lewis, and Thenmozhi Soundararajan
    Feminist, queer, trans, economic, disability, and racial justice warriors have been at the forefront of movements for social change: organizing, mobilizing, protesting, boycotting, agitating, sustaining, guiding, collectivizing, re/producing, and challenging. This panel will address how feminist engagements have animated and informed movements for transformation in local and transnational spaces.

    Plenary: "Laboring and the Politics of Re/Production"
    Speakers: Laura Briggs (mod.), Dána-Ain Davis, Aren Aizura, Valerie Francisco-Menchavez, Siri Suh, and Lynn Roberts
    Reproduction has often been associated with childbearing, biology, and reproduction of the human species. But how does re/ production re-envision reproduction? What are the multiple ways that society/social organization are produced? How can we incorporate multifaceted stories of how human bodies and humans as social beings are produced and reproduced? What kind of labor is required for that re/production? Crossing temporal, spatial, racial, and national boundaries, panelists will engage with the connections between labor and re/production.

    Plenary: "Writing New Worlds"
    Speakers: Savannah Shange (mod.), Margaret Noodin, Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Cherríe Moraga, and Mishuana Goeman
    Writing as an art, as a means of communication and a mode of performance, as a process of envisioning a new world has been central to feminist imaginings. Panelists writing in different genres and from different locations will address how the written, spoken, and signed word can take us beyond our geographical/spatial boundaries to new figurative and literal spaces through creating new realities. Panelists will also consider how new narratives can help construct new ways of being.

    Presidential Session: "Gender Studies Under Fire: Fighting Fire with Fire"
    Speakers: Barbara Ransby (mod.), Edilza Sotero, Zeynep Kurtulus Korkman, Francisco Galarte, and Paola Bacchetta
    This panel will address the growing global attacks on women, gender, feminist, sexuality, and ethnic studies as legitimate areas of scholarly research and teaching, which has resulted in budget cuts, shuttering of programs, violence and harassment, job loss, and arrest. Participants will speak about how this right-wing agenda, rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny, and the rise of authoritarianism, has had a stifling effect on academic freedom and progressive scholarship and how scholars and activists from Turkey to Brazil to the U.S. have been fighting back.

    Presidential Session: "Decolonizing Solidarities: The Case of Kashmir"
    Speakers: Deepti Misri (mod.), Mona Bhan, Haley Duschinski, Hafsa Kanjwal, and Ather Zia
    In this roundtable, the five founding members of the Critical Kashmir Studies Collective (CKS) will reflect on our scholarly and activist trajectory. For over a decade CKS has fostered a decolonial feminist anti-occupation framework for knowledge-production around Indian-occupied Kashmir. We will also focus on a collectively drafted statement with feminists based in Kashmir, “Decolonial Feminist Statement on #MeToo in Kashmir.” Reflecting on our collaborative feminist solidarity building within and outside the academy, we will illustrate how our attempts to shift knowledge-production away from dominant state-oriented research perspectives have become a part of a collaborative feminist praxis of knowledge-production around Kashmir.

    Presidential Session: "Queer Africa"
    Speakers: Joy Caroline Hayward-Jansen (mod.), Elizabeth Winifred Williams, T.J. Tallie, and Elliot James
    This panel engages trans-feminist futurity by seeking ways to translate queer theory in a transnational context. Scholars like Dennis Altman have suggested queer theory is irrelevant to the Global South, and that the adoption of the terminologies of lesbian, gay, and transgender leads to a flattening of localized identities. Some, like Ifi Amadiume, have responded to efforts to translate same-sex pairings between Africans as “gay” or “lesbian” with anger, warning that such efforts would be considered “totally inapplicable, shocking and offensive” to those so described. Such concerns are heightened in discussions of Africa, where global opprobrium for anti-gay legislation has often recreated the dynamics of a disapproving West chastising a backwards “dark continent.” Yet, activists in several African countries have adopted terminologies like lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer that originated in the West, and used them to argue for their own personhood. A number of scholars based on the continent have also begun to claim the terminology of “queer,” finding it useful in describing the diversity of gendered and sexual practices on the continent, and deploying it to criticize the broader colonial structures which continue to shape the treatment of Africa and Africans. The scholars in this panel propose new methodological approaches that allow us to translate queer across spatial frameworks without compromising the specificities of space and time. They use queer as a heuristic to flesh out the intersections of colonialism, sexuality, and race, and challenge both disciplinary and spatial divides with comparative analyses of settler colonial queerness.

    Presidential Session: "Gay Shame: Gentrification and Direct Action Spectacles of Trans/Queer Resistance"
    Speakers: Eric Stanley (mod.) and Jemma DeCristo
    San Francisco’s representational legacy as a safe-haven from the routine brutality faced by trans/queer people has been weaponized in the neo-liberal class-war lead by the tech and real estate industries. The trans/queer direct action group Gay Shame will discuss its fabulously antagonistic political responses in fighting San Francisco’s current class-war.

    Presidential Session: "Oceanic Indigenous Feminisms: S/Pacific Bodies, Poetics and Politics"
    Speakers: Noelani Goodyear-Ka’ōpua (mod.), Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Leora Kava, ‘Illima Long, and No’u Revilla
    When we speak of liberation in the Pacific, how do we embody it? This roundtable gathers Indigenous women of Oceania who, as poets, scholars, and activists, theorize and practice an inter- and transnational feminist politics from the s/pacific context of our salt water bodies (T. Teaiwa 1994; Hauʻofa 1998). We draw upon concepts within our own languages and genealogies, as well as the words and acts of Native Pacific women thinkers and leaders who precede us, so as to consider pan-Pacific feminist solidarities and Indigenous nationalisms.

The 2019 conference also renewed the Arts@NWSA programming. Curated by Rosamund S. King, the program, "Seeing Beyond: Arts@NWSA," included a display of visual artwork from more than thirty artists with roots across the globe, a dance performance from the Sarah Bush Dance Project's "Spirits and Bones," and a set from DJ Emancipation at the welcome reception. Below is an excerpt of King's curatorial statement:

    The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) welcomes both professional scholars and those whose research is direct action, and whose expertise comes from practical experience. I’m sure many of you, conference participants and attendees, consider yourselves both artists and activists. As an extension of its work and values, the NWSA is committing to including the arts in its annual conference in a thoughtful, intentional way – and I was excited to be chosen as the second curator of Arts@NWSA.

    The arts are always vital, important, and necessary – and artwork of all kinds fits the 2019 NWSA theme “Protest, Justice, and Transnational Organizing” perfectly: art can be protest, and it can depict that which we protest against. Art is a fundamental aspect of justice, since it is a key example of the freedom to think and imagine independently. And like scholars and activists, artists and curators can pursue the difficult, messy, but worthwhile strategy of transnational communication and organizing. Along with the overall theme, my goal for Arts@NWSA 2019 has been Seeing Beyond - beyond borders, beyond artistic medium, beyond the obvious.

See the full program here

From the NWSA President

Dear Colleagues,

It has been an exciting year of transition for NWSA. We have a new office in Chicago and three new staff members, Deana Lewis, Jennifer Ash, and Victoria Agunod, who have done an incredible job putting together what we know will be a stellar conference. Many, many thanks for their hard work to attend to every detail of this conference, from childcare to the quiet room to accessibility services.

I have had the privilege and honor of working with two amazing co-chairs, Dána-Ain Davis and Robyn Spencer, and a wonderful roster of review chairs who were critical in shaping the content of the conference. This year, NWSA had its largest number of proposal submissions ever (over 1300!); congratulations to everyone, from participants to reviewers, who labored to ensure an intellectually stimulating and inclusive conference. #NWSA2019 will prove to be a busy and enlightening conference with 600 sessions, over 2300 presenters, and over 400 moderators.

In addition to our keynote conversation between Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor and Arundhati Roy, we are thrilled to have as featured speakers Cherríe Moraga, Mishuana Goeman, Margaret Noodin, Aren Aizura, Lynn Roberts, Noura Erakat, Michelle Téllez, Thenmozhi Soundarajan, and many more.

The Bay Area is an especially inspiring place to hold this conference given the confluence of organizing and activism around indigenous, LGBTQ+, Palestinian, Latinx, immigration, and labor issues. In addition to panels and papers highlighting Bay Area politics, this year, for the first time, NWSA has formed a local arrangements committee to partner with community organizations and offer locally oriented events. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to attend a tour of the Comfort Women Memorial Statue and a closing celebration at the San Francisco Women’s Building. We have worked with writer, performer, and artist Rosamond King to curate an Arts@ NWSA program with a selection of dance by the Sarah Bush Dance Project and visual arts (including DJ Emancipation at the Welcome Reception!)

Finally, we have strengthened NWSA’s commitment to creating a welcoming space for activists, through inclusion on panels and plenaries and financial support with our activist travel fund. We encourage people who are able to make a donation to support travel for participants with limited resources. You can do so on the NWSA website:

And a sneak preview for #2020NWSA: Our conference theme for next year is “The Poetics, Politics, and Praxis of Transnational Feminism.” We hope it will be an opportunity to reflect on the theory and praxis of the past and future of transnational feminism in a rapidly shifting global landscape. The call for proposals will be issued shortly. In the meantime, mark your calendars for November 12-15, 2020 in Minneapolis!


Premilla Nadasen
President, NWSA (2018–2020)

NWSA Governance

Below are the 2019 NWSA governance members. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

2019 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.