The Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies is marking the 50th anniversary of women’s studies at UB with a two-day conference entitled “Visionaries and Troublemakers: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at 50” on October 28-29.
The first day of the program begins with registration at 9:00 am at 509 O’Brian Hall, North Campus. Day two begins at 9:30 am in Hayes Hall on the South Campus. The conference is free and open to the public, with both in-person and remote options for attendees. Registration information along with the conference schedule and speakers are available online.
The event will reflect on women’s studies at UB while also examining how five decades of teaching and research in the discipline by faculty and students have been part of broader struggles to advance the rights of women and sexual minorities, according to Gwynn Thomas, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies.
“We celebrate the founding of the Women’s Studies College at UB and how this led to the discipline of women’s and gender studies, but we also see this as a means to reflect on what the next 50 years might be like. says Thomas, who is also the organizer of the conference.
Thomas says that women’s studies at the university grew out of activism in the 1960s.
By 1971, the university had begun establishing its Women’s Studies College, which UB officially recognized the following year. These early years brought new voices, perspectives and experiences to the Academy to ask new questions and in turn discover and develop better answers that enriched those communities and the university environment.
“What happened at the UB with women’s studies in the beginning was one of the many radical experiments in higher education that tried to democratize the university,” says Thomas. “Until that point, the experiences of women and underrepresented communities in academia were missing.
“It was not only the absence of faculty members that reflected these communities, but also the lack of knowledge produced and taught about these communities.”
Women’s Studies is an engaged voice at the UB that has been concerned with the lived experiences of women in society and as producers of knowledge since its inception. The discipline existed in various entities, beginning with the Women’s Studies College and later under a reorganization along with other university colleges into the Department of Women’s Studies in 1997 before taking shape as today’s Global Gender and Sexuality Studies, which is a Bachelor of Arts degree , Master of Arts and PhD in Global Gender Studies.
“Our survival is one of our many achievements,” says Thomas. “We are present and have trained generations of students in feminist and gender theory. The overall educational experience at the UB is richer through this work.”
But Thomas emphasizes that the conference is a public event and is not designed exclusively for students and researchers.
“We’re going to have a whole range of interesting questions that touch on the many challenges we face today,” she says. “How do we create knowledge; How do we ensure knowledge is inclusive in a way that respects the experiences of diverse communities? And we’re going to talk about the connections between academics and activism. How do we use our best knowledge and skills to think critically and create the framework to address the issues we face today?”
Women’s Studies is a discipline that deals directly with some of the most pressing issues facing society today.
“Of the fall of Roe v. Wade, to attacks on women’s rights and sexual minorities, to fears of critical race theory being in reality an attack on public education, women’s studies as a discipline has been a central part of the discussion of the issues, and there’s plenty to admit for all learn from the conversations we have planned over the two days of the conference,” says Thomas.
Thomas says the discipline of women’s studies will continue its commitment to creating a better world through activism and scholarship within the discipline.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in 50 years, but I hope that in 50 years we’ll be in a better place,” she says. “We are all excited for the opportunity to celebrate this anniversary, and we invite everyone in the community to come to the conference and participate in our discussions.”