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Women’s Heritage Month

At UIC and on many other campuses around the country, the month of March is celebrated as Women’s Heritage Month.  In the pre-COVID-19 days, that celebration took the form of public events featuring notable feminist scholars, public intellectuals, writers, artists, and activists who populated course syllabi, feminist bookstores and local/national lecture circuits.   They brought stardom or familiarity.  But they also brought Language. Images. Laughter.  Stories.  We could bear witness to how women have resisted the restrictions imposed by gender, racial, sexual and national identities. At its best, WHM programming pushes us to think and act differently, and reminds us to see the present and the future for everyone who lived at the margins as demanding our collective attention and action.  True, sometimes the events left us wanting for more – to turn the presenters’ critical lenses onto themselves, to see how their efforts to talk about “women” did not go far enough to name how patriarchy was intertwined with a eurocentric, cisgender, anti-poor perspective.  Other times, we walked away full, ready to heave and tilt the world – or at least the campus – back to a position that would make it possible for, among others, Black, Latinx, Arab American, and Asian American women students on campus to reach for a college education and the future it promised.

Futures are also uncertain.  As I am writing this, I recall the sense of foreboding that crept up on us a year ago as WLRC – along with several cosponsors - prepared to bring Black lesbian poet, writer and activist, Staceyann Chin to campus.  Glenance Green, UIC graduate student and cultural worker, opened the program with her own poetry.  Staceyann’s visit allowed us to center lesbian and queer women of color in a conversation about building community, solidarity and care in perilous times.  We knew we needed more time, but we did not have it.  The next day, after lunch and a very emotional conversation, we held onto each other, sensing that it would be a long time before we would be able to touch strangers again. That gathering was a necessary exercise in re-balancing, as we now know.

Going further back in time, I imagine that when the Circle Women’s Liberation Union outlined its five-point proposal in 1972, and when Black and Latinx students led protests and sit-ins in 1990 to demand adequate university response to harassment and assault of Black women on campus, they were doing a collective heave and tilt, using the language they had inherited as well as created to push for a balance that was inclusive; one that students asked for and had been denied; they demanded something new, better, more just.  The outcomes of those protests – the African American Cultural Center and [what is now known as] Women’s Leadership and Resource Center – but also the other cultural centers, are the spaces within which critical conversations about women, gender and feminisms continue to form and thrive.

During Women’s Heritage Month and throughout the academic year, we welcome the entire campus community to join our programs: to learn new language, or be reminded of what we already knew, to deepen understanding of the many histories and points of departure for women’s struggles, to acquire new tools, explore new relationships to social justice movements, etc.

At WLRC, we see participation in these conversations as essential to students’ education and engagement with the campus.   Regardless of discipline or major, students can learn about and grasp the urgency of building solidarity across race, gender and national lines in order to resist the destructive effects of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, militarism, carceral states, environmental injustice et. al on their lives.

We hope your first WHM stop will be the event “Revolutionary Mothering: Laboring for a Just World”, which is hosted by Dr. Nadine Naber and the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy (IRRPP) and cosponsored by WLRC and many other UIC units.  If the COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant attention to the many forms of mothering labor that are necessary to keep families safe and communities safe, far less attention is given to the ongoing ways in which carework, of which mothering is an important dimension of anti-racist and anti-carceral activism. Thinking beyond the biological and towards the political dimensions of mothering, this event promises to provoke, inspire and remind us about the unequal and yet transformative ways that women participate in changemaking work.

To get your mind ready, browse the Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines anthology by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams (PM Press, 2016).  Also check out Parent Like It Matters: How To Raise Joyful, Change-making Girls by Janice Johnson Dias (Penguin Random House, 2021).  Jazmin Vega (WLRC’s graduate assistant) has also curated a reading list.  Do let us know if you have suggestions to add to the list; I see summer reading in our future.

During this year’s WHM, WLRC is launching its 30th anniversary under the theme "Centering Care and Community: 30 Years of Resistance at the WLRC."  During the spring and fall 2021 semesters, special programs will explore various dimensions of the center’s work as it has unfolded over the past three decades.  A highlight of our conversations will be critical perspectives on how the center enacts community and care; strategies for challenging inequities on and off the campus (e.g. speaking out against racism and state violence, naming economic issues that affect women of color, providing confidential support and activist education regarding survivors of gender-based violence, etc.), and building solidarities across communities and identities.  We plan to create opportunities for students, staff and faculty – past and present - to come together to tell their own stories of the center; consider how the center’s work is situated in relation to the last three decades of critical feminist scholarship, praxis and resistance; examine the how and why of our partnerships inside and outside the university, and the impact of these collaborative relationships on the center’s past, present and future.

The kick-off event for our 30th anniversary event will be the Sustaining Centers of Care, Community, and Resistance roundtable to be held on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 11:30am - 1:00pm CST.  There’s no better way to begin a year of introspection than with a conversation among feminist leaders of Illinois’s women’s (and gender equity) centers, one that we have yearned for and are finally bringing to fruition.  Mark your calendars!   Whether you are new to WLRC or have had multiple kinds of relationships with us – former students, staff, etc. – we would love to see you there!

Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.