The NWSA Conference 2011: an Undergraduate’s Perspective

When back in June 2011 Professor Adeline Koh kindly offered me to join her for the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) Conference that was to be held in Atlanta, GA, I knew right away it would be in my best interest to take advantage of such unique opportunity. Not only would I be able to represent the Richard Stockton College at a professional National Conference, but also it would allow me to advance myself by being part of an intellectual academic space. So several months later, and a few sleepless nights of conducting research after, it was all coming alive. Thanks to the support from the Stockton’s Student Development Office and the Women’s Coalition I was boarding the plane on the way to Atlanta. Having no previous experience of participating in a conference of that scale, I had no idea what it was going to be like. I simply set a goal to engage, interact, learn, and have a great time.

Soon after the arrival I registered for the conference, and proudly displayed the given to me name tag which indicated the name of Stockton College. After attending the opening night ceremony that featured the keynote speaker Ruth Wilson Gilmore, I found myself engaged into conversations with other presenters, most of them were returning participants. I was glad to be accepted by the people of the higher academic world as an equal.

The next day was filled with the most interesting panels and discussions. After finally making my choice in favor of the most exciting sounding panels I went off the path of knowledge and learning. I attended the panel that discussed the work and legacy of Gloria Anzaldua, listened to the wonderful presentation on African women writers, engaged in the discussion on “Belongingness and the Notion of Identity,” learnt about new forms of Egyptian Feminist Activists and so on. My head was spinning by the end of the day.  Yet I was hungry for more as  I leafed with sadness through the booklet that listed all other most fascinating sounding titles of the panels that I physically wasn’t able to attend. But there were two more days ahead of me and the most exciting part was yet to come.

 

"Constructing the "New Asian Woman" in Singapore and Malaysia" Panel Moderator: Frieda Ekotto; Presenters: Prof. Adeline Koh, Sviatlana Fenichel, Dashini Jeyathurai, Prof. Karen M. Teoh

The following day was the day when our panel organized by Professor Koh was scheduled to take place. It was titled “Constructing the “New Asian Woman” in Singapore and Malaysia.” The panel was comprised of four presenters, Karen M Teoh from Stonehill College, Dashini Jeyathurai from University of Michigan, Professor Adeline Koh and myself, and it was moderated by Frieda Ekotto, the most exciting woman and Professor from University of Michigan. Not only I was given an opportunity to co-present with Professor Koh on her paper “Producing the Modern Oriental Woman: Singapore Chinese Anglophone Literature and Tan Hwee Hwee’s Mammon Inc,” but I also had a chance to present on my own. Titled “Digitizing Feminism in Singapore and Malaysia” my presentation was about the Stockton Postcolonial Website, which exemplifies an innovative way of writing about feminist issues and making them accessible to a broad audience interested in the subjects it uncovers. Thanks to the great support and encouragement from Professor Koh, Professor Jacobson and Frieda Ekotto, I was able to truly enjoy our presentation and feel confident. It was very flattering and extremely exciting at the end of our presentation to be approached by a representative from the University of Michigan. I was kindly offered to consider continuing my education at their institution.

Possibly the only downside in the structure of the Conference that I could point at was an extensive number of panels scheduled for each time frame. It was truly challenging to choose from over four hundred panels offered in mere two and a half days. Each presenter had something valuable to share or something important to bring up. Often attendees were actively engaged in the discussion or even sparked counter-discussion that challenged the ideas brought up by a presenter. Such exchange of opinions and ideas was very valuable and rewarding for both sides. Unfortunately the lack of time allotted for post-presentation discussion significantly eliminated such possibility. However, often times presenters and attendees would reunite at the end of the day to continue discussions.

One of the highlights of the Conference was Michael Kimmel’s book signing session. Right after he gave a keynote talk along with other prominent feminist scholars, Linda Martin Alcoff and Trinh Minh-ha, Professor Koh and I joined him in the post-conference, less formal discussion. Not only we got our books signed, but we also manage to snap a photo with Michael Kimmel and invited him to visit Stockton College.

Book Signing Session: Sviatlana Fenichel, Michael Kimmel, Prof. Adeline Koh

Overall, the Conference opened up a new domain of scholarly world, made it real and attainable. It combined people of different cultural and national backgrounds, ages, sexual identities. Importantly it wasn’t attended by exclusively females. Which echoed Michael Kimmel’s comment about the necessity of men to engage in the feminist discourse and jointly fight against gender inequality.

Despite the visible diversity of its members, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the Conference. No matter what event I was attending either a book signing section, a thematic discussion, or simply having a cup of coffee in a short break between the panels, there was always somebody who would engage in a conversation or simply introduce herself / himself and ask about my background and my presentation. So, through the thread of spontaneous conversations I was able to build up a network of people from different parts of the United States. Some of them are following me on Twitter, others I exchange emails with.

To be attending the Conference of that scale as an undergraduate student was another exciting element of my overall experience. It felt like I was given a key to a secret door, behind which the world of graduate student and Professors engaging in building up a better world community was conceiled. I was proud to place Stockton’s name in line with leading US academic institutions.  Similarly I was happy to share the idea of the Stockton Postcolonial Digital Project designed and launched by Professor Adeline Koh.

 

Prof. Adeline Koh, Sviatlana Fenichel, Frieda Ekotto

The NWSA Conference in Atlanta proved to me that there are other, more rewarding forms of learning besides books and classroom. It is the knowledge received through interaction and communication, through meeting new people and being exposed to limitless powerful knowledge. I find it symbolic that the first conference I attended had a theme title Feminist Transformations. There is no doubt that personally for me the Conference has become a major force of transformation, both in the way I perceive feminism and the way I envision my future. I am very grateful that it was made possible for me thanks to Professor Koh and Stockton College.

You can learn more about the content of my presentation here. To read about an interesting session that I attended at the NWSA Conference that sparked a controversial discussion on veiling practices between a presenter and an attendee, please click here.

 

To learn more about the NWSA Conference visit NWSA Website. If you are interested in leaning more about the Stockton Postcolonial Studies Project please visit the website.  For comments and questions about the Stockton Postcolonial Studies Project please contact Professor Adeline Koh. To receive further information about the Richard Stockton of New Jersey visit the RSC Website. Follow Sviatlana Fenichel on Twitter.

 

One Comment to “The NWSA Conference 2011: an Undergraduate’s Perspective”

  1. […] under­grad­u­ate stu­dent Svet­lana Fenichel just posted her response to giv­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the National Women’s Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion in Atlanta, […]


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