By Julie Shayne, University of Washington Bothell
GWSS is now officially a half-century old, just a little younger than me. The first US program would have celebrated its birthday in April 2020 had much of the world not been put on pause due to COVID-19. Fifty years is a significant amount of time for tremendous development, change, reflection, and growth. Persistence is Resistance is meant to capture some of this vibrant feminist history, expand the current documented conversations, and move us into the future.
This project is the result of a lot of things, not the least of which is being a Women’s Studies student at San Francisco State University in the 1990s. (BA, 1993 and MA, with the second cohort of grad students, in 1995.) I entered SFSU on the heels of my own involvement in the Salvadoran solidarity movement, a slight detour from my first attempt at college, and then was drawn straight to Women’s Studies. The majority of my professors were women of color: Angela Davis, Donna Hubbard, Chinosole, Merle Woo. There were influential white women as well, but they felt like the minority: Mina Caulfied (my mentor in grad school) and Ruth Mahaney. The majority of the assigned texts were written by women of color, including those assigned by the white faculty. When I started at SFSU I had no career goal in mind, but it didn’t take long to realize I wanted to be a Women’s Studies professor.
After I decided I was interested in the history of GWSS in the US, I checked out books, and quickly became confused. I was taken aback by the largely white narrative, given SFSU’s deep roots in Black and Women of Color feminisms. So, this book is in part about correcting the historiography of US academic feminism. I hope eventually Persistence is Resistance is a centerpiece in conversations that started in some of the earlier canonical texts, yet in my estimation, are overly white and US centered.
Persistence is Resistance is also the result of leaving the tenure track for the teaching track (with impeccably good timing), and ending up in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS) at the University of Washington Bothell. As a Teaching Professor, I ultimately chart my own research path and ended up pursuing the public scholarship route; this book is my most recent passion project. Persistence is Resistance also looks the way it does as a result of me being submerged in IAS for over a decade, a School that values undergraduate student-faculty creative collaboration. As you move through the pages (starting on the cover), you will see the words and images of GWSS student artists and creative thinkers. GWSS belongs to all of us and our undergraduates are the ones to carry it forward – I felt it very important to put them front and center in this project. (See Sarah Valdez’s essay.)
As a white editor, it was very important to me that we tell an intersectional story, and not by simply adding the word “intersectional,” and letting it land there, devoid of historical and analytical force. Rather, I worked hard to recruit Black feminists, feminists of color, and folks trained in those schools of thought. Intersectionality, though articulated as such by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), has its roots in Black feminist pioneers like the Combahee River Collective (1978), Audre Lorde (1984), and women of color feminists like Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and all of the contributors in This Bridge (1981). By assembling a truly diverse collection of scholar-activists trained in this history, that represent a cross section of social locations, to speak of their own communities’ histories and futures, we are collectively able to tell the intersectional story that is GWSS. Thus, the authors of Persistence is Resistance are far from a homogenous group. We are young and less young; we are cis, trans, and nonbinary. We are straight and queer. We are racially and ethnically diverse, with more authors of color than white. We are undergraduate students, retired faculty, and all over the place in between. We are teaching track and tenure track faculty, affiliated with all types of schools: community colleges, private universities, HBCUs, state schools, women’s colleges. A handful of us have PhDs or are working on PhDs in GWSS, almost all of us teach primarily in GWSS departments or programs, while a few of us are completely outside of academia. All this variety aside, the one thing we all share is our commitment to a feminist university. That means feminism at the bedrock when it is time to start programs from scratch, which still happens today. That means feminism in the classroom with respect to what we assign our students, how we teach and support them. (See Creel Falcón; Tajima Creef & Hertz; Siddiqui; Chen essays.) That means feminist administrating so that when minoritized faculty are targeted, they have allies with power. (See Torres and Howard essays.) And so much more, as you will see in the pages that follow.
Persistence is Resistance is organized into three sections: The history of GWSS, the Praxis of GWSS, and Doing GWSS. Section one’s essays discuss: the history of the first program (SDSU); the first and only Africana Women’s Studies program; GWSS in the Global South; the GWSS name change; an annotated bibliography for other researchers, and why GWSS still matters. Section two is about mobilizing, or, the praxis of GWSS. Two of the essays are about pedagogy, one about feminist publishing, two about feminist administrating and/or the need for it, and one about what GWSS students do after they graduate. Finally, section three begins with an undergraduate student’s reflections and then looks at the implementation of GWSS in Ghana; feminism in Latin America; community colleges in the US; Indigenous feminisms; ecofeminism; and Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. All of the essays are punctuated with student art or student answers to “why GWSS?” Despite its richness, this collection is incomplete. There were many topics I wanted to include in this collection that I was not able to because I could not find available authors. In my estimation, the two most conspicuous and honestly painful absences are pieces about disability studies and GWSS and trans studies and GWSS. I also hoped to have a piece on the evolution of the National Women’s Studies Association, and something about GWSS’s importance in understanding popular culture. The short of it is, we simply cannot capture fifty years of this dynamic field in one book.
A note on terms, formatting, and other stuff that matters differently when you publish in non-traditional platforms. I have written/edited three books, not including this one. After completing the last two, both of which I finished in the Seattle area, I said I wanted to take a ride on a Washing State Ferry (one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the pre-COVID-19 era), attach a brick to the Chicago Manual of Style, and toss it over the side of the boat once I got into the center of the Puget Sound. For those of you who have written academic books, I suspect you know the feeling. Since I do not litter, and understand the environmental damage that it would do, I have never followed through on that. For this project, my copy editor (Sarah Cannon) and I decided to break a lot of the rules since we are quite confident few feminists, if any, were consulted in writing that manual. So, there are inconsistencies and things that are technically “inaccurate” as per the style guidelines. But from a feminist knowledge production perspective, we decided we want to have the final say about capitalizing titles and the like because there is more behind every “style” decision than simply format and consistency. As a result, we ask you to roll with the inconsistencies. You will also see that the authors vary in our use of “Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies” to “Women’s and Gender Studies,” and most commonly the acronyms. The variety of course reflects the thirty-plus programs that the thirty of us represent.
Finally, this was an ambitious project, one punctuated by Black lives lost to state violence – either directly in the cases of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks or through structural violence enabled by the state, in the cases of Ahmaud Arbery and all of the Black lives lost to COVID-19. Being “productive” as one navigates trauma, especially when your own community is targeted, is something that is unfortunately all too common for many of the authors in this collection (McCoy 2020). I thank the authors and artists for taking the time to contribute to this project, given this backdrop. I think the amount of time everyone dedicated to this non-traditional publication is an indication of our commitment to a feminist university and in this case, the feminism shows itself in open access publishing.
The success of this book is in part up to you, the reader, so please help us circulate it and share a sliver of the amazing GWSS story. If you are a student, reading it outside of a class, share it with a professor to teach in their class. If you are a professor, suggest reviewing it for your journal, newsletter, or blog. If you are neither, share it in your circles: Feminist scholarship is meant to travel outside the academy, so help us disseminate it! Please elevate the feminist scholarship and creativity in these pages so that we can bring more visibility to fifty years of GWSS history and the scholars who documented it. And don’t forget, always #CiteBlackWomen.
The Combahee River Collective. 2009 . “A Black Feminist Statement.” In Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies, eds., Stanlie M. James, Francis S. Foster, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, 3-11. New York, NY: Feminist Press.
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.
The Guardian staff and Justin Glawe. 2020, June 15. “Rayshard Brooks police shooting was homicide, says medical examiner,” in The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/15/rayshard-brooks-police-shooting-was-homicide-says-medical-examiner. [Accessed: 6/16/2020]
Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
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]
Moraga, Cherríe and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. 1981. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, Second edition. New York, NY: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
The New York Times. 2020, May 21. “Ahmaud Arbery Shooting: A Timeline of the Case,” in The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/ahmaud-arbery-timeline.html. [Accessed: 6/12/2020]
Ray, Rashawn. 2020, April 9. “Why are Blacks dying at higher rates from COVID-19?” in Brookings blog. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/04/09/why-are-blacks-dying-at-higher-rates-from-covid-19/. [Accessed: 6/12/2020]
Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. 2020, May 29. “Opinion: Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People,” in The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/opinion/george-floyd-minneapolis.html [Accessed: 6/12/2020]
- I would like to thank Kandace Creel Falcón for their feedback on an early draft of this Preface ↵