40th Annual Gender Studies Symposium explores Lack and Absence
For 40 years, the Lewis & Clark College Gender Studies Symposium has fostered timely and thoughtful academic discourse on gender and sexuality. From March 10–12, this year’s theme of “Lack and Absence” used what is missing, overlooked, excluded, or invisible to find what it might mean to uncover, include, illuminate, amplify, or recuperate what has been absent or lacking.
By Yancee Gordon BA ’21
The 40th Annual Gender Studies Symposium, Lack and Absence, invited attendees to consider gender and sexuality through what is missing, overlooked, excluded, or invisible. Attending to absence is an act of recovery and a project of imagination. The symposium opened a theoretical, political, and interpersonal dialogue to discover what it might mean to illuminate what has been absent or lacking.
“The symposium is a space of learning, creativity, and of cultivating a community through considering questions of gender and sexuality,” said Kendall Arlasky BA ’21, a sociology and anthropology major and co-chair from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. “Our weekly planning committee meetings were a space to really consider what the symposium could be in these very particular circumstances, and I really appreciated the community created during the planning process that helps to make the symposium what it is.”
Carmen Maria Machado delivered the opening keynote presentation. The writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania is known for her genre-blending storytelling and award winning memoir and short story collection. Her latest project consists of a limited-run DC Comic series The Low, Low Woods which takes body horror down paths heretofore unexplored in comics.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to experience both Carmen Maria Machado’s presentation on archival silence, and Jennifer Nash’s presentation on women of color doulas,” said English major and co-chair Phoenix Bruner BA ’21 from Centennial, Colorado. “I’ve read some work from both speakers and I was blown away.”
Jennifer C. Nash delivered the closing keynote presentation on her research surrounding gender, sexuality, and feminist studies. The Jean Fox O’Barr professor at Duke University is the author of two books, The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography and Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Professor Nash’s presentation explored women of color working as doulas in Chicago during an era in which doulas are increasingly hailed—by the state and by activists—as precisely the innovation that can save black mothers’ lives. Her analysis draws on 23 interviews she conducted in 2018 with birth doulas—many of whom describe themselves as “bodyguards”—working in the Chicago metropolitan area. She explores the complicated tensions around professionalization and the medicalization of birth that underpins their practice, and considers the place of their work in the ongoing effort to eradicate black infant and maternal mortality.
“We have so many amazing and interesting events lined up, and I’m eager to hear what other members of the community have been working on,” continued Bruner, ahead of the event. “I’ve presented at the symposium in the past about personal narrative, and I was set to present on a panel last year about assumptions and representation prior to its cancellation due to COVID. So this year I’m excited to be presenting my senior thesis on the Representations panel.”
The symposium also held two workshops. The art therapy workshop, Squashing the Box of Gender Normativity, was run by Mary Andrus, assistant professor and director of art therapy at the Graduate School of Education and Counseling. This workshop aimed to dismantle constraints and envision new possibilities for gendered realities. Joshua Edward Wright, co-founder of Liberation Literacy and co-creator of All Rise magazine, facilitated the the Isolation and Loneliness of Prison workshop discussing the struggle to find identity, stay connected, manage emotions of loneliness and isolation, and navigate a heavily gendered and toxic environment of imprisonment in this facilitated workshop.
The final presentation, No More Stolen Sisters: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), was co-sponsored by the Lewis & Clark Native Student Union. Mary Bodine, Corrina Ikakoula, Katie McDonald, and Caroline Rouwalk gave the presentation as members of Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) American Indian Alaska Native Employee Council.
The symposium concluded with the Lewis & Clark Theatre Department’s performance of The Secretaries. This campy horror-comedy is a feminist contemplation on internalized homophobia and sexism. Tickets to the livestream were free, and limited in-person seating was available.
“I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to attend past symposia throughout my time at Lewis & Clark and those experiences informed how I thought about and imagined the symposium this year,” continued Arlasky. “Organizing a virtual symposium is not easy, but we are really excited to make the symposium more accessible to the broader Portland community as well as friends and family of the presenters.”
All events were open to the public.