‘The End of Other Studies?’: Rutgers Women’s and Gender Studies 40th Anniversary Review

The Women’s and Gender Studies department started-off women’s history month with a number of events for the Newark and Rutgers community. Some of the features of the week were speakers Valerie Smith, Black feminist and literary scholar from Princeton University, who spoke about the legacy of intersectionality as a subject of study as well as a way of reading and producing new knowledge in academic fields as well as in our worlds at large. Her call to creativity in scholarship and participation in communities to find new ways of thinking was a timely introduction to the Women’s and Gender Studies Celebration the following day.

To celebrate the founding of the department, Rutgers invited a collection of speakers and presenters to share their work and experiences in the field. The day began with a graduate symposium that brought together a collection of women from the Rutgers campuses to share their research under the over-arching theme of “New Frontiers in Feminist Scholarship.” Here is a brief snapshot of some of their work:

Danielle Phillips, PhD Candidate, Women’s and Gender Studies: Her presentation entitled “Moving with Women” highlighted some of the archival research that she has been conducting looking at images of Irish and Black domestic workers in late nineteenth/turn-of-the century New York. Inspired by her personal experiences of see white domestic workers and nannies upon her first visit to New York, Danielle’s project has been centered on revealing narratives that connect the lives of Irish and Black domestic workers through reading imagery of them from that time period, finding connections between two seemingly disparate groups.

Maura McKeever, Graduate English Program: Maura presented a paper title “Whitman and Queer Theory” that brought together a critical reading of Foucault’s theories of power and sexuality and Whitman’s poetry. She examines how spaces of inclusion based on desire outside of gender-normative categories of sexuality are created in Whitman’s poetry.

Bahia M. Munem, Phd Candidate, Women’s and Gender Studies: Bahia shared some of her recent research she has been conducting on Palestinian refugees in Sao Paulo, Brazil in her paper, “Expulsions & Receptions: Palestinian Refugees Find Belonging in the Brazilian Nation-State.” She has primarily been using interviews and ethnography to gather data on the re-settlement processes of the refugee communities. Negotiating identities and belonging within a new nation-state has been a central themes of her work.

Amy Clark, Graduate English Program: In an intellectually creative piece, Amy presented “Empathy, Vulnerability, and the Possibility of a New Coalition Politics,” a paper grounded in gender and sexuality studies, that aimed to find ways of building connections between groups based a politics of shared interests, rather than one of a politics of difference. This intellectual move to make a space for collaboration among groups to push the frontier of Women’s and Gender work tied together nicely the broader themes and spaces that the 40th anniversary celebration celebrated this year.

Following the graduate student symposium was a panel of former directors of the Women’s and Gender Studies program. Each of these women shared their experiences and insights as both administrators and practitioners in the field, providing a historical and anecdotal rendering of the emergence of the department at Rutgers.

The afternoon changed gears a bit when a group of dancers from Brooklyn came in to perform a piece of movement and poetry exploring the experiences of memory, hope, fear, dreams, and living for Black women in the city. In an emotionally moving work, these women evoked the very personal and collective experience of growing up with expectations weighed down by hard realities and histories that the bodies of women carry across generations and spaces. Their performance echoed several of the themes from the two-day celebration.

For the keynote, Rutgers invited CUNY professor of philosophy Linda Martin-Alcoff who gave a talk entitled, “The Intellectual Foundation of Identity Based Studies.” As with most of the programs of the day, her talk looked at identity-based scholarship from a perspective building coalitions among groups struggling to understanding the meaning of identity that does not negate identity categories, but seeks to know differences better.

Linda Martin-Alcoff at Rutgers University

It was an outstanding and inspiring day. Thank you to everyone who participated in the anniversary celebration.

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