I always learn so much at this conference, and it provides a number of opportunities that other academic conferences don't offer. For instance, the contributions by graduate students, and even undergraduate students, at this conference are welcome and encouraged. Simultaneously, the "big names" in women's and gender studies are accessible and approachable. There are certainly things that NWSA could do better, many of which are the usual weaknesses of academic spaces, but NWSA will continue to be my favorite conference. Here I'll share a few highlights (and see my related blog about Fitness at NWSA).
Women Everywhere. As one might imagine, the NWSA is attended by mostly women. There are certainly some men there, and they are as welcome as anyone else. And there is a diversity of people generally--women of all sizes, shapes, colors, sexual orientations, national and international origins, younger and older. It is inspiring simply to share the space with so many women. There are few other spaces where you can walk through crowds, make eye contact and smile, maybe even chat with someone you don't know. (In fact, after an embarrassing cash mishap at the airport, I hitched a ride with a couple of faculty members from Rutgers who welcomed me into their cab and trusted me to pay them back later.)
Workshops and Roundtables. While many conferences include alternate formats to the "talking head" presentation, NWSA does this particularly well. In fact, I walked out of a more traditional panel when one women read her paper--a critique about the One Billion Rising movement--quickly and in a monotone. People talking about their work is so much more powerful than listening to someone read, especially if they are reading in a disaffected manner. Further, I really hate it when I go to a panel to hear a particular panel and the one paper I wanted to hear is a no-show. The whole discussion is stunted with a missing piece. Roundtables and workshops are always worth attending.
I attended two roundtables that I want to share. One was with some of the editors from The Feminist Wire, a website and collective that does amazing work. The other was with the Crunk Feminist Collective who also publishes a blog. Both of these roundtables were amazing and inspiring. Both groups maintain and update their site regularly--daily and weekly, respectively. They do this work--for no pay--on top of their "real" work. Both provide insights that you will not see in the mainstream news media.
The Feminist Wire provides an extensive peer-review process and work collectively to edit articles. They publish well-known authors like bell hooks and Angela Davis as well as people who have never published. They also provide space for "college feminisms" and "elementary feminisms" and encourage young people to submit work to their site.
One of the most helpful aspects of both of these roundtable presentations was their discussion of self-care, a topic I presented on at NWSA this year, and a topic I start to explore in my book, Women and Fitness in American Culture. (More on this in my blog about Fitness at NWSA.) In an environment where everyone sacrifices their quality of life outside the academy--on my campus and in the academic world more generally--it is inspiring to hear women talk about the importance of taking a break, stepping away, or rewarding yourself for your hard work. Such is not easy to do, but it is necessary if we want to continue to serve our institutions, students, and communities.