Conclusion: Damn Straight We Persisted
By Julie Shayne and Nicole Carter, University of Washington Bothell
“The revolution begins at home” Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (1983, xxvi)
As you have read, Persistence is Resistance tells part of the story of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies’ (GWSS) first half century with a window into the next. As the title of this project implies, the mere existence of our programs, particularly as they evolve and have deeper institutional roots, is a manifestation of triumph. No Women’s Studies program was welcomed with universal open arms, particularly the ones started by women of color. Feminists have always been a thorn in someone’s side and we always will be; if we weren’t, as they say, our work here would be done. As of this writing, we can say with 200% confidence, our work is nowhere close to being done. We are writing this as at least 140 US cities are rising up against police brutality, state sponsored violence, and structural anti-Black racism, protests that have now spread to at least twenty-two countries. The authors in this collection have made it clear that feminism and GWSS are about challenging intersecting vectors of power and privilege, be it through the development of Africana Women’s Studies at Clark Atlanta University (Sears), the leadership capacity of Indigenous feminisms (Whitebear), or the power of a survivor telling her own story (Chen). We hope to leave you with this sentiment of feminist resistance, especially in these very bleak times. Nicole has parting words to her fellow students, alumni, and future or GWSS curious students, and Julie to her fellow and future professors, and university staff who work with students. For those of you who do not fall in any of those categories, we hope our words resonate with all of you.
Parting words from Nicole
I just graduated from the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) with a bachelor’s degree in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and Community Psychology. Throughout my time at UWB I had the opportunity to experience and try many new things, including peer facilitation, attending and presenting research at the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA), and working closely with professors and librarians to design a class. Even with all of that, perhaps the most significant part of my GWSS experience was witnessing first-hand the importance of an education rooted in feminist theory as the world was plunged into a pandemic and simultaneously rose up to demand racial justice for Black people in the United States. I began my undergraduate degree primarily focused on studying the impacts of trauma and adversity. I was very intent on trying to learn and understand the different experiences that folks have but I did not realize how narrow my education had been until I took my first GWSS class and was exposed to the histories, stories, and lives of Black, Indigenous, and minoritized women and queer folks. I remember where I was when I first read Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes” (1991), where she aptly explains how Western feminist scholars perpetuate the idea of a “universal third world woman” by reducing folks to a single story or set of experiences. I wondered how, as a white woman, I might have contributed to this type of erasure in the past and have since used her words to guide my work. Lourdes Torres points out in this book that women of color in academia face many more obstacles in trying to secure tenure and receive the recognition they deserve for their work. In reading This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, I saw the power in queer histories of resistance and finally felt empowered and safe enough to come out myself. Being a student in GWSS was much more than acquiring an education and attaining a bachelor’s degree. It was a tool for my own liberation and continued to demonstrate that resistance to heteropatriarchy, hegemonic power structures, and hopelessness is rooted in art, love, and persistence. Persistence to demand better from our country, world, families, and friends. Persistence to continue uplifting and centering the voices and cries from everyone who has been historically silenced or told their life does not matter. In my experiences, GWSS was the first place to center those voices.
I will admit I am angry. I am angry that the authors, histories, movements, and theories I have had the opportunity to learn about are not taught in other majors or throughout primary and secondary education. If GWSS were required, folks would understand the only time this country points towards justice is when folks rise up to demand change. And those uprisings are almost always led by women, including trans women, even if history does not document the story that way.
Being exposed to GWSS and deciding to add it as a double major has significantly changed and improved my life. Whether I decide to be a mental health counselor or a professor, what I have learned in those classes makes me a better friend, ally, and comrade in the fight for justice and a better world. I encourage students considering GWSS to dive in and declare it as a major! I met my mentor Professor Julie Shayne in my first GWSS class and over the course of two years have had the chance to facilitate a class, be published in a zine, travel to San Francisco to attend the NWSA and moderate a panel, and finally, work on this book. The relationships you develop along the way will truly help you continue the important work long after graduation. And your professors really do want to support you and help you be successful.
Once you declare the major, I encourage you to pursue many types of opportunities—I suspect your programs will likely have their own versions. For example, if there is a class you absolutely fall in love with or found especially compelling, you might reach out to the professor and see if they would be interested in taking on a peer facilitator or student teacher the next time they offer the course. Or, if you want to research a topic that is not offered at your school, reach out to your professors or advisors as there are often opportunities for independent research that can earn you class credit and sometimes even monetary compensation. There are also often scholarships and grants available to help students attend conferences or symposiums around the country. A degree in GWSS is truly as expansive and meaningful as you want it to be and there are a million ways to personalize it to you, your values, and the direction you intend to go post graduation.
Parting words from Julie
So, what next? We know that COVID-19 is already setting women faculty back (Kitchener, 2020). (See also Howard essay.) And according to the American Psychological Association, we are living in a “racism pandemic,” with dire health consequences, including “depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases” (APA 2020). We know our beloved students are struggling, especially the ones from marginalized backgrounds. We know we miss our students since most of us have not seen them in the flesh for a while and honestly, we are not entirely sure when we will again. This work is hard. I have never met a GWSS professor who does not love their work, but we all agree, for a whole host of reasons, this work is at once incredibly rewarding and incredibly taxing, and that is under the best of circumstances. Needless to say, nothing about today’s world resembles “the best of circumstances” for women and/or marginalized communities who are the center of GWSS inquiry and communities. So, let us be kind to ourselves and each other.
To begin, I would like to encourage all of the professors, professors-to-be, and staffers to read Berger and Radeloff’s book Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender Studies Students are Changing Themselves and the World, Second Edition (2015). And after you read it, get a copy for your campus Career Services, encourage them to read it, and then discuss it with them. It may make you cringe to think of our degree as vocational but the reality is, our students need jobs, and the world needs feminists in every single sector if we are truly to see change. GWSS makes our students better at everything and Berger and Radeloff help us help them tell people why.
White faculty, please re-read Lourdes Torres’s essay and think long and hard about her recommendations. In short, she asks us to start by educating ourselves. She even gives us a reading list! Then when you finish that, read Marius Kothor’s blog post “5 Anti-Racist Practices White Scholars Can Adopt Today.” Yes, we teach GWSS, so presumably we all intellectually understand racism at a macro level. That is not enough. I am confident that most students of color who have taken a GWSS class with a white professor have been subjected to microaggressions perpetrated by us, just as they are from white professors in their non GWSS classes. I know my students of color who trust me have confronted me about things I have said or situations I could have handled better. Needless to say, it was not their job to educate me—it could not have been easy, and how many students are not able to talk to us? Clearly “understanding racism” does not mean we always practice anti-racism. We need to understand and interrupt our own complicity in white supremacist practices on our campuses, be they in hiring and promotion decisions; in research opportunities for our students; in antidemocratic decision making in our departments, or in our classrooms.
Despite its progressive exterior, the academy is not exempt from white supremacy, and GWSS is part of the academy. We cannot hide behind our degrees and our titles and act as if we are immune from racist practices. Our Black colleagues are telling us they are exhausted and terrorized (Anonymous, 2020; McCoy, 2020); we cannot be OK with that. If we are at white majority institutions and the number of women/femme of color faculty and staff at all levels, including leadership, are not going up, we are doing something wrong. We need to pressure our administrators to require anti-bias trainings for search committees. Not token gestures that make the organizers feel better, but effective ones, led by Diversity and Equity Deans that make the white attendees really reflect on our implicit bias and work to change our practices that continually result in all white candidates and thus white hires (See Harvey Wingfield, 2020). We need to actively work toward changing the committee assignments that presently allow for the constant tokenizing of WOC and minoritized faculty and subsequent exploitation of their labor. We need our students of color to feel seen in our classes, and that includes in the material we assign, regardless of the topic. Our assigned texts should never be predominantly written by white scholars. If at least half of the authors on your syllabi are not people of color, it is clearly time to update the syllabus. There was never an excuse for white majority content and certainly not now when there is so much readily available work by POC from which to choose. (See for example, Evans, 2019). I could go on and on because there is so much to do, but these are just a few suggestions. I firmly believe claiming to be an “intersectional feminist” without implementing the ideology as conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) and the women of color feminists who articulated their own version before her, is its own version of white supremacy. In my estimation, that is more antithetical to GWSS than is misogyny. White faculty, we absolutely must do better.
Returning to all GWSS faculty and staff, consider taking on administrative leadership, including budget related work. As Judith Howard eloquently lays out, there is much to be done from the inside to secure the longevity of our programs and wellbeing of our faculty. Many have and will likely always argue that the more institutionalized we get the farther we get from our activist roots. I personally do not see it that way. Rather, I believe the more institutionalized we are the harder it will be to get rid of us—after all, Persistence is Resistance. There are plenty of people on all college campuses who would be none too happy to see their GWSS programs simply go away; it is up to us to keep the activist spirit central to GWSS and that is arguably easier to do if we are not also fighting to keep our programs from disappearing. As Doreen Mattingly, Chair of SDSU’s Women’s Studies department says, borrowing from Shirley Weber, former chair of SDSU’s Africana Studies, “if you aren’t at the table, then you’re on the menu” (2020). That metaphor is particularly meaningful now given the debt crises campuses are finding themselves in due to COVID-19. As the University of Wisconsin Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium warns, GWSS programs are likely targets for budget cuts (WGSC, 2020). We need to be in the room, making decisions, because no one is going to advocate for GWSS programs except for ourselves. Related to this, on campuses where GWSS departments and our faculty do have institutional clout and thus power, it is our responsibility to support and advocate for what are often smaller programs—Ethnic Studies, Latinx Studies, African American Studies, Indigenous Studies, Asian American Studies and the like—as these programs will no doubt be economically vulnerable as well.
Something else that came up in different ways in a lot of the essays is the emotional labor that is so common among women and/or minoritized faculty. Mind you, many of these essays were started pre COVID-19 and pre George Floyd’s murder. We know GWSS professors and staff are called upon regularly to support our students, especially survivors of sexual violence. We do it but most of us are not trained therapists. Some of us are even survivors or parents or spouses of survivors ourselves dealing with our own trauma or secondary trauma. I have written about emotional labor elsewhere and what institutions can do to recognize and count it. GWSS professors know we will not leave our students hurting, even when we ourselves are barely keeping it together. But if we are going to put ourselves on the frontlines of student support, our institutions need to acknowledge the labor we are doing. Senior GWSS professors and staff: we need to pressure our administrations to value and count this work.
Collaborate with your students, including undergraduate students, especially your first generation and minoritized students. Think of all of those lightbulb moments you have witnessed. Recall all of that amazing art and creativity that you have furiously graded at the end of each term. Remember how many times you were wowed by those research papers. Our students are amazing. They keep us going. Find ways to collaborate. Co-present at the NWSA; co-author academic papers; co-author popular press pieces. Invite your students to illustrate your book! (Thank you Nicole Carter!) But white professors working with students of color: don’t tokenize your students, and don’t pursue these relationships to make yourself look and feel good. (See Martinez-Cola, 2020.)
Finally, if you have not already, experiment with public scholarship and open access publishing. As Carmen Rios explained in her essay, feminist publishing has many, many outlets and homes online right now and they are not all sequestered behind paywalls. Pursue them. Our voices matter. And please share this link on all of your social media platforms. Remember, Persistence is Resistance, and even in the face of global medical and white supremacy pandemics, GWSS has and will continue to persist.
American Psychological Association. 2020. “’We Are Living in a Racism Pandemic,’ Says APA President.” www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/05/racism-pandemic?fbclid=IwAR13blVgOPDux4dn01O_npT2NGT12SVo48fbpgT3PrArKKlGXm3pYppbQno [Accessed: May 31, 2020]
Anonymous. 2020, June 12. “What Can You Do: Being Black and Tired in Academia – #BLM Guest Post.” In, The Professor is In. http://theprofessorisin.com/2020/06/12/what-can-you-do-being-black-and-tired-in-academia-blm-guest-post/ [Accessed: 6/19/2020]
Berger, Michele Tracy and Cheryl Radeloff. 2015 . Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender Studies Students are Changing Themselves and the World, Second Edition. New York, NY: Routledge.
Black Lives Matter. N/D. “Herstory.” https://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/. [Accessed: 6/19/2020]
CNN. 2020, July 13. “Protests across the globe after George Floyd’s death.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/world/gallery/intl-george-floyd-protests/index.html. [Accessed: 6/19/2020]
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” In University of Chicago Legal Forum. 1989(1): 139-167.
Evans, S. Y. February 2019. The Black Women’s Studies Booklist: Emergent Themes in Critical Race and Gender Research. Retrieved from https://bwstbooklist.net/ [accessed: 5/15/2020]
Harvey Wingfield, Adia. 2020, July 1. “We Built a Diverse Academic Department in 5 Years. Here’s How.” In Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/07/we-built-a-diverse-academic-department-in-5-years-heres-how?fbclid=IwAR0OGVKrJdCbdd1EzrqayQ858H4zpePxUktnphlYtMb61rKBQyootRQzd_g. [Accessed: 7/2/2020].
Jacobs, Julia. 2019, May 29. “Two Transgender Activists Are Getting a Monument in New York.” In The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/arts/transgender-monument-stonewall.html. [Accessed: 6/19/2020]
Kitchener, Caroline. 2020, April 24. “Women academics seem to be submitting fewer papers during coronavirus. ‘Never seen anything like it,’ says one editor.” In The Lily. www.thelily.com/women-academics-seem-to-be-submitting-fewer-papers-during-coronavirus-never-seen-anything-like-it-says-one-editor/ [Accessed: 6/19/2020]
Kothor, Marius. 2020, June 17. “5 Anti-Racist Practices White Scholars Can Adopt Today – #BLM Guest Post.” In The Professor is In. http://theprofessorisin.com/2020/06/17/5-anti-racistpractices-white-scholars-can-adopt-today-blm-guest-post/?fbclid=IwAR0Ch8M7bcJ8RBimUTGGXNN2FUR6N3l2jFmM6j_Jz78AG8XOu_yuRv_KMzo. [Accessed: 6/19/2020]
Martinez-Cola, Marisela. 2020. “Collectors, Nightlights, and Allies, Oh My: White Mentors in the Academy,” in Understanding and Dismantling Privilege. 10(1): 25-57.
Mattingly, Doreen. 2020. “Living with a Legacy: Reflections on Being First in the Nation.” Presentation, on Plenary 3 “50 Years of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies: Looking Backwards, Looking Forward.” At the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) Winter Meeting. San Diego, CA. Feb 1.
McCoy, Henrika. 2020, June 12. “The Life of a Black Academic: Tired and Terrorized.” In Conditionally Accepted. www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/06/12/terror-many-black-academics-are-experiencing-has-left-them-absolutely-exhausted?fbclid=IwAR2bKjG-QygSJGnPEDAtrP_HxbJ52NWqfy5umkq4Zcdv3w1mC9F24-mlTG8. [Accessed: 6/12/2020]
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Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria Anzaldúa. 1983 . ”Introduction.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, Second edition, eds., Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, xxiii-xxvi. New York, NY: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Schatz, Kate and Miriam Stahl. 2015. Rad American Women A-Z. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
—–. 2016. Rad Women Worldwide. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
—–. 2018. Rad Girls Can. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
—–. 2020. Rad American History A-Z. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
Shayne, Julie. 2015, October 29. “Feminist Mentoring and Underserved Rock Stars.” In Feminist Reflections. https://thesocietypages.org/feminist/2015/10/29/feminist-mentoring-and-underserved-rock-stars/ [Accessed: May 31, 2020]
—–. 2017, September 15. “Recognizing Emotional Labor in Academe.” In Conditionally Accepted. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/09/15/importance-recognizing-faculty-their-emotional-support-students-essay.[Accessed: May 31, 2020]
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Unzueta Carrascoa, Tania A. and Hinda Seif. 2014. “Disrupting the dream: Undocumented youth reframe citizenship and deportability through anti-deportation activism,” in Latino Studies. 12(2): 279–299.
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- Julie would like to thank Lourdes Torres for taking the time to read a draft of this Conclusion and sharing her insights. ↵
- K-12 GWSS materials absolutely exist! Check out Women’s Studies alumna Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl’s series of Rad Women and Rad Girl books, and their newest, Rad American History A-Z. ↵
- Some recent examples include Black Lives Matter (https://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/ [Accessed: 6/19/2020]); Pride (Jacobs, 2019); Undocumented immigrants’ rights (Wong et al. 2012; Unzueta Carrascoa and Seif 2014). ↵
- I went to a public school with not a lot of funding but even there I was able to find small grants to support my conference attendance. Contact your mentors and see if your campus has an Office of Research because they will likely help you locate funds. Also, here are some national resources: https://thescholarshipsystem.com/blog-for-students-families/the-ultimate-list-of-scholarships-for-women-and-girls/ and this Facebook group is dedicated specifically to undocumented students: https://www.facebook.com/groups/undocuscholarships/ ↵
- Shout out to Dr. Mira C. Shimabukuro, former Associate Dean for Diversity and Equity in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences where I work, for beginning these trainings, and moving diversity and equity work many years ahead during her tenure in that inaugural position. ↵
- Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa’s powerful words in the Introduction of This Bridge are relevant here: “We see the book [This Bridge] as a revolutionary tool falling into the hands of people of all colors. … We envision the book being used as a required text in most women’s studies courses. And we don’t mean just ‘special’ courses on Third World Women or Racism, but also courses dealing with sexual politics, feminist thought, women’s spirituality, etc.” (1983, xxvi). ↵