Co-chairs elaborate on 43rd Annual Gender Symposium

Gender studies symposium flier titled "being online"
Courtesy of Lewis & Clark

Queerbaiting, representation in TV shows, KPOP, femboys, clean girl aesthetics and sex toys are just a tiny fraction of the pertinent topics that will be addressed through panel, presentation and performance at Lewis & Clark’s upcoming 43rd Annual Gender Studies Symposium, “Being Online.” 

When co-chairs Cameron Kalopsis ’24, August van Nieuwenhuysen ’25 and Molly Gibbons ’24 began discussing themes with Director of Gender Studies Symposium and Associate Professor with Term of Humanities Kimberly Brodkin, the internet quickly rose to the top of the list.“Being Online” promises a platform for topical discussions and diverse examinations of the internet’s role in gender and sexuality.

“For me, honestly, it really came out of the fact that I live on TikTok,” Kalopsis said. “I love TikTok. It’s super problematic sometimes, but I genuinely think a lot of it is a positive in this world.”

Social trends, algorithmic woes, misinformation and their entanglements are tackled by students, professors and academics from across the Pacific Northwest in the upcoming panels and presentations. The co-chairs are excited to take advantage of the Internet’s myriad of impacts and the nuances they introduce.

“The theme of ‘Being Online’ was a way to capture a lot of the other themes and topics we were considering,” Gibbons said.  “There’s a lot of opportunities for discussions about other communities in different areas, and different time periods as well, not just currently. The internet has been around for a bit of time now and seeing how its changed throughout time, and looks different or looks the same in different places around the world, I think is really important.” 

The wide reach of the digital world and the global connections it creates allow for internationally-focused events, including a roundtable discussion of digital queer liberation in the Global South and a panel presentation by Pacific University Assistant Professor of Sociology Sang-hyoun Pahk on surveillance in the global digital village.

“There are so many ways we interact online and exist online,” van Nieuwenhuysen said. “I think it is really nice to have a theme that has that nuance to it. You can talk about the positives, the negatives and the neutral. As someone who has found most community in my life through online spaces, it felt really relevant and topical to me. I thought that was a good sign because I’m a student here who attends the symposium so if I feel like (if) I have an interest in this topic hopefully there’s other people at school care about the topic.” 

Narrowing the search for keynote speakers and panelists was a daunting task for the three co-chairs. 

“Even after we had decided on the theme of Being Online, we had to find people who would work well in a symposium on that theme, and there’s so many people. I felt, for a while, paralyzed by choice,” van Nieuwenhuysen said. 

Gibbons also spoke to the challenge of selecting participants.

“It was kind of a puzzle finding connections between all of the different proposals we received and trying to make sure that we were representing as many aspects of our initial ideas about being online as we could,”  Gibbons said. 

Ultimately, the co-chairs are thrilled to announce a schedule packed with presentations from passionate students, professors, authors, poets and performers. The symposium opens with a collage workshop and includes poetry and prose readings from this year’s edition of Synergia: Journal of Gender Thought & Expression, an annually-produced journal which showcases LC student writing about gender-related issues. The schedule also includes a one-person musical performed by LC alum Laser Webber ’10 about the history of trans men and his own transition. 

For the co-chairs, this variety of presentation formats, topics and perspectives more broadly reflects their hopes for the Gender Studies discipline. 

“As a queer person, specifically as a trans person, it has always felt like having discussions around gender, sexuality, marginalized or minority identities be at the forefront in academic conversations is something that historically hasn’t happened and something that only recently has started gaining traction on a wider scale,” van Nieuwenhuysen said. “That was something that definitely drew me to the symposium, I saw the opportunity to not only participate in something larger than myself, but also potentially act as an additional mouthpiece for some of those elements that, even amongst gender studies circles, maybe haven’t always been highlighted.”

Van Nieuwenhuysen connected these conversations to perceptions of LC students.

“I do think still, even among students at this school, there is a notion that gender studies as a discipline is all cishet, white, upper-middle-class women focused and it doesn’t have to be that. It ultimately can be whatever it needs to be. The more people that get involved with whatever their background or identity is, the better it is for everyone,” van Nieuwenhuysen continued.

The internet, much like the Gender Studies Symposium and academia generally, acts as a reflexive platform: Those involved impact participants, the content and, in turn, the creators themselves.

 “There’s a mutual relationship, people impact the internet but the internet also really impacts our culture in real life,” Kalopsis said. 

Gibbons expanded upon the symposium’s interest in the reciprocal nature of the internet.

“Early on we were talking about the distinction between the internet and online spaces, perpetuating different ideas about gender and sexuality and also creating them,” Gibbons said. “Gender and sexuality aren’t just represented online but created and recreated.”

Each of this year’s keynote speakers speak to this mutually informative relationship in different ways through their work. These questions of navigating the digital world in the past, present and future impact us all, as the online world only becomes further enmeshed in our everyday physical reality with each passing year.  

Moya Bailey, Associate professor in The Department of Communications at Northwestern University, is the author of the book “Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance” and the founder of the Digital Apothecary, which works “to produce processes and projects that aid those most marginalized in society,” according to their website. 

Bailey’s keynote presentation asks the question, “What Are Gender and Sexuality in the World We Want?” and promises to consider creating digital worlds that can guide us into a more hopeful future.

Conversely, keynote speaker Avery Dame-Griff examines the way past internet communities have informed present realities as the founder of the Queer Digital History Project and author of “The Two Revolutions: A History of the Transgender Internet.” In his presentation, titled “When It Was Ours: A Queer and Trans Counterhistory of the Internet,” Dr. Dame-Griff discusses the nascent Internet as a space for connection and shared services among the queer and trans community, using the past to offer a potential alternate model for the future of our digital world.

Gibbons, Kalopsis and van Nieuwenhuysen encourage students across disciplines to attend the Gender Studies Symposium event with an open mind.

“Even if you see something and you think, ‘maybe that’s not for me,’ just give it a chance, especially if Gender Studies is something you don’t regularly interact with,” van Nieuwenhuysen said. “It is such a cool opportunity just to hear, not only the keynote speaker speak and the visiting professors and academics, but to hear your other peers speak. It’s so cool to go to a panel and see someone you had calculus with get up and give a whole presentation and answer questions and you get to do it for free in the middle of the week,” van Nieuwenhuysen said. 

Student thesis and research presentations on a variety of topics are featured throughout the symposium. Student artists and performers also lend their talents to the symposium production. Van Nieuwenhuysen acknowledged the cooperative effort that the symposium requires.

“This symposium and any other symposium or events like it only happen because people submit stuff, show up, come to the meetings, engage, ask questions,” van Nieuwenhuysen said. “Thank you to everyone who has participated in some way, shape or form, whether you submitted a proposal, volunteered to table or just looked at our poster in passing, thanks because it literally would not happen without you. It really takes a village but that is what makes it so cool to see it come together and it’s going to be really, really awesome and gratifying to see the fruits of everyone’s collective labor. It is a lot of work but I do think it’s really worth it because, I personally have never experienced anything quite like the Gender Studies Symposium here.”

The 43rd Gender Studies Symposium runs from Mar. 6 – 8. The schedule, which features brief descriptions of each event and resources for further information, can be found on the LC website. No registration is required, all events are free and open to the public.

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