41st Gender Studies Symposium offers exploration of “Fantasy”

Lewis & Clark’s 41st Annual Gender Studies Symposium began on March 9 and will conclude this evening, March 11. The symposium is one of the longest-running gender symposia in the country. This year’s symposium is being run by student co-chairs Iyanah Fuller ’22, Carley LaPlaca ’22 and Hazel McGraw ’22, under the direction of Associate Professor Kimberly Brodkin. 

The co-chairs and Brodkin believe that the symposium offers something for everyone, regardless of previous experience or interest in gender studies. According to Brodkin, the fundamentally intersectional nature of gender studies makes it widely applicable and meaningful. This will be Brodkin’s 19th Gender Studies Symposium. 

Fuller describes the mission of the symposium as very inclusive with events meant to “touch everybody.” 

“I think even if certain events call for certain identities, we shouldn’t close each other off to anything,” Fuller said. “There are ways to engage through difference. I would encourage people to go to something that might not feel totally applicable to them or what they are studying.”

In an effort to dispel misconceptions about attending the symposium, McGraw explained that all events are designed to appeal to people across levels of engagement. 

This year’s theme, “Fantasy,” aims to examine the intersection of “intimacy, pleasure, and politics,” according to the symposium’s website. The event description notes that fantasy is not only an act of individual imagination but can also be a powerful form of political resistance. Transformative action begins with transformative thinking. 

“This year’s symposium is about thinking of what we could be,” Fuller said.

“Thinking about what we want to be and … giving each other the space to think intellectually about what fantasizing is and how … it can translate into tangible things and tangible action. I think it is an interesting way to think of not only our activism, but our identities.”

The organizers wish to reframe the tension that is often perceived between an ideal world and the current reality. 

“There’s a piece that invites a little bit of escape,” Brodkin said. “And yet there’s also a piece that is entirely present in the realities of our moment that is committed to transforming things and making things better. There is always that idea of contrast and yet it invites us to dream about something being better and different about the world we are in. It is not entirely a detachment or escape, it’s a way of engaging in transformative ways with our present.” 

LaPlaca notes that the planning committee was very mindful that this symposium comes at a historic time for the world, the country and the school. 

“Everything has been serious recently with the pandemic, and since this is our first symposium back in person, I think it is really great we are doing something that is fun and it can be anything you want,” LaPlaca said. 

Due to the Templeton Campus Center construction and COVID-19 precautions, the symposium has faced challenges with finding spaces to hold the events. Brodkin gives credit to the co-chairs for executing the symposium despite these disruptions. 

With regard to planning, LaPlaca noted they were surprised by how student driven it really is.

Planning for the symposium begins nearly a full year before the event takes place. In fact, the theme for this year emerged out of the meeting held in April 2021 to reflect on the outcomes and execution of the previous symposium. Brodkin explained that this is not very unusual because they often discusses topics that tend to resonate with the community. In last year’s case, intimacy was proposed as a popular topic of inquiry. 

Brodkin emphasizes that the planning committee meetings are open to any and all who want to be involved, including this year’s debrief in April. 

“The new co-chairs will not have been chosen yet, but it will be a chance for committee members, newcomers, as well as people who have been involved all year long, to come together for a sort of debrief and forecasting, brainstorming meeting given this year’s symposium,” Brodkin stated. 

The committee meetings take place every other week in the fall and spring leading up to the symposium. The group brainstorms about potential events, publicity, and community engagement. 

While the meetings allow for community members and those who wish to be involved with the planning of the symposium to offer their input, the co-chairs ultimately select the theme and keynote speakers during the summer. The co-chairs are also responsible for social media, email campaigns, volunteer coordination, event space scouting and the formation of panels and workshops based on applications. 

The application to be a co-chair also opens in April, followed by an interview and selection process. 

Brodkin notes that the selection is generally a competitive process, but that does not mean people should be deterred from applying, including those who have not been previously involved in the planning process or even with the Gender Studies department. 

Other ways to be involved is with the art show, in which students apply and are selected to curate pieces submitted by students and other artists of interest, or by participating in musical and theater performances. 

According to Fuller, the symposium serves as a way to supplement intersectional discussions about gender, sexuality and race that the syllabi sometimes aim to facilitate, but lack the opportunity to do so meaningfully. 

​​“My hope is that this theme helps gender studies or what the speakers are talking about feels both relevant and fun,” McGraw said. “I want people to come away thinking about how academic pursuits can overlap with creative pursuits and joy.”

Proposals for next year’s symposium are accepted at the beginning of the fall semester. The symposium attracts submissions in the academic, professional and creative realms from both LC and non-LC affiliated participants. Alumni are invited to submit proposals as well.

Additional information can be found at the Gender Studies Symposium’s website: https://college.lclark.edu/departments/gender_studies/symposium/.

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