Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Campus members attend NWSA conference

By Courtney Westlake

After attending the National Women's Studies Association conference last year in Chicago, Amanda Looney knew she couldn’t pass up the chance to go again, even though she had already graduated with her master’s from UIS and moved away from Springfield.

“I went last year, which is why I really wanted to go this year. It was a great experience, and I met a lot of people I really wanted to see again,” Looney said. “I'll definitely go next year.”

Six members of the campus community attended the 29th annual National Women's Studies Association conference from June 19 to 22 in Cincinnati. One of the highlights of the conference this year was its keynote speaker, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, said Lynn Otterson, director of the Women's Center at UIS, who attends the conference almost every year.

"She talked in very creative ways using the Miss Universe Pageant, and its history over the years, and who wins, and what happens to who wins, to talk about race and gender in a neo-empire framework," Otterson said. "So it was important and interesting ideas she was talking about, and she was also a very good speaker."
In addition to the keynote speaker, the conference featured workshops, films, a book fair, and more. Otterson and Looney also both attended an extra day called "Women's Center Day" that took place before the actual conference began.

"My favorite part was the Women's Center Day; it was a separate day for women who work in women's centers," Looney said. "We break out in different sessions and network. I went to seminar entitled 'Building a Women's Center from the Ground Up.' It was really helpful for me because I'm starting out in my career, and I really like working in women's centers, so if I work in a new center somewhere, it would be beneficial to have that information."

Because the conference took place in the Midwest both last year and this year, UIS was able to take bigger groups than when the conference is held beyond a reasonable driving distance.

"When it’s nearby in the Midwest, we can take a university van and get lot more people there, so I really enjoyed this conference because we had six UIS people with us," Otterson said. "One of the most enjoyable parts was to travel in company and share experiences with people I already know well and to get to know a few others."
Renee Rathjen, a junior at UIS, said she was impressed with being able to see the various generations of women activists join together in one place.
"It was very neat to see the huge variety of generational experiences that led people into activism," she said. "You have the millennial generation, who has sense of entitlement, and then you have people who were there from the beginning, working on voting rights and those sort of things. We saw whole gamut of gender equity movement."
Participating in the conference is a great way to build relationships with other attendees in addition to your own group, Otterson said.
"I'm the only women's center director in town so this is my one chance a year to be in a room of up to 140 people who do my work," she said. "It's very useful, and I get a lot of great ideas. As you go over time, you make friends, so you can call or email these friends throughout the year to get advice or get best practices. It's so much easier to do if you have those relationships."

“It was so nice to get to know the women outside of school,” Looney agreed, “and really get a chance to talk to them on a personal level and talk to them about different women's issues. And one of my favorite feminist authors was there, Jessica Valenti, and I got to buy one of her books and we got it signed, which was cool.”

Rathjen, who is majoring in political science with a minor in economics, said she recently decided to add women and gender studies as another minor and enjoys tying all three fields together.

"I went to a lot of feminist economist workshops, which were really cool," she said. "I picked up a lot of books and journal articles that will assist me in analyzing some of the work and some of the information I brought back from Mexico, where I went with the 'Mexico and Globalization' class over spring break."

This conference, and many others in different fields, allows participants to learn about the latest research and new information, Otterson said. To have campus community members attend conferences and further their education is essential not only for networking purposes but because it offers an opportunity to learn a lot about the specific field and new topics within the field, Looney said.

“I went to a really heavy seminar about race and sex, and how those two things intersect and what that means to women's studies, and it was something I hadn't thought about before in-depth,” Looney said. “There were a lot of issues that I think about more or seek out more information on, and I want to read more books about certain topics now.”

“I think anyone that wants to should definitely go to conference because it's a really wonderful experience to have, not only with women on your campus but to learn more about other issues and yourself, and to meet new people,” she added.

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