From November 16-19, 2017, Dr. Toni King of the Black Studies Program and Dr. Gill Wright Miller of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program traveled to the 2017 National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) along with sixteen Denison University students. The conference was held in Baltimore, Maryland, and the theme was “Forty Years after Combahee: Feminist Scholars and Activists Engage the Movement for Black Lives.” The Combahee River Collective was a collective of Black Feminists originating in Boston in 1974. During the feminist movement of the 1970s, the Combahee River Collective was a crucial voice for marginalized women, as they criticized the way in which mainstream feminist organizations prioritized the needs of white women to the exclusion of issues faced by women of color and the contributions of women of color to social change endeavors. The Collective had a profound impact on feminist thought from that time to the present, as they emphasized the interlocking nature of systems of oppression—an idea which became foundational within many fields of study that center on power relations (Black Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Queer Studies, etc.). Students from both Programs attended sessions geared to help them translate theories they study at Denison into action, including a keynote dialogue between renowned activist and public intellectual Angela Davis and Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of #Black Lives Matter.
Sessions covered cutting edge theories and approaches in the field, such as: debates on intersectionality, transnational feminism, contemporary policy issues in areas such as health care, the prison industrial complex and other major institutions, as well as feminist pedagogies, building solidarities for contemporary activism, and creative activist strategies, to name a few. Sessions in a variety of formats explored implications for action and social change surrounding marginalized identities, indigeneity, global women’s issues and other social justice and political work. The conference foregrounded the leadership of Black women and women of color which was reflected in the keynote and plenary events. These events brought women activists and intellectuals together in solidarity across many identities and from many cultures to plan ways to address current issues in our world.