Jack Halberstam speaks at the symposium's keynote event. Photo by Venus Edlin

Gender Studies Symposium cancels last day events

The co-chairs of the 39th Annual Gender Studies Symposium “Tensions of Possibility” decided to cancel the events for March 13 after concerns arose over the spread of COVID-19. Its theme aimed to explore the prospects for community, artistic expression and politics in the past, present and future in terms of gender and sexuality.

The symposium kicked off the morning of March 11, with events throughout the day. That evening they hosted a keynote on dereliction and destitution with author and Columbia University professor, Jack Halberstam. The art show in Stamm Dining Room featuring the work of students and other artists also opened the same day, remaining open until the cancelation of later events.

The following day’s activities continued undisturbed, including a workshop on intimacy as a path of LGBTQ+ liberation and a keynote by social influencer and author Feminista Jones entitled “Radical Disruptors: What We Can Lean from Queer Women of Color.” Videos of her keynote as well as Halberstam’s talk will be posted online at a later date by the Gender Studies Symposium.

Feminista Jones responded to one of the symposium’s tweets about her keynote. Her twitter name is now “wash your hands” featuring clapping emojis between each of the words in response to the COVID-19 health crisis.

“Was so honored to do this and grateful for all who came out to attend,” Jones tweeted. “Wishing the best to the students and faculty of Lewis & Clark at this time!”

After Feminista Jones’ keynote, the co-chairs decided to end the symposium to help de-densify the campus and implement social distancing.

Sharon Soffer ’20, one of the co-chairs, was frustrated by the decision they had to make, but found it more important to cancel the remaining events.

“We felt it was our responsibility to keep the health of our community and everyone’s best interest in mind and that’s why we just decided to cancel,” Soffer said.

Another one of the co-chairs, Rayce Samuelson ’20, said they did not feel qualified as students to make the decision on whether or not to continue with the symposium. Samuelson felt that LC should have communicated more clearly.

“Obviously, we’ve been working on this for 11 months, the last thing we wanted to do was cancel, and we felt really abandoned by the institution,” Samuelson said. “There’s been a really poor lack of communication from Lewis & Clark, towards the students, the faculty, but also to us as event planners.”

The events that were canceled include a collaborative arts and crafts space, a presentation on assumptions and representations, “From the Archives: Creating and Revisiting Narratives,” and a discussion about missing and murdered indigineous women. The March 13 showing of “Marie Antoinette” was also called off by the production team, which would have featured a post show talkback with the director Rebecca Lingafelter and the choreographer and event co-chair India Roper-Moyes ’20. 

Associate Professor of Gender Studies Kimberly Brodkin has been the faculty advisor for the symposium for 17 years now. She explained the high level of coordination and collaboration that goes into planning the symposium.

“One thing you may not realize is that people from around the country submit their work for presentation at the symposium,” Brodkin said via email. “We widely distribute a Call for Proposals, and we receive submissions for individual papers, workshops, film screenings, roundtable conversations and other events that we then accept and organize into complete sessions. In this sense, the Gender Studies Symposium resembles a professional academic conference.” 

Despite the event being cut short, the co-chairs said they are happy with the outcome of the symposium. Brodkin and the co-chairs hope that attendees still got the intended messages from the event.  

“It is always our goal that students will be inspired, provoked and engaged,” Brodkin said via email. “We hope people feel challenged and affirmed, and I especially hope other students decide to get involved in the future, either by participating in the planning process or by submitting work to the art exhibit or for presentation.”

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