Letters from the Director
Fall 2022 - Welcome back letter
If you are familiar with the writing style of one Professor Paola Zamperini, I think you will agree that the warmth and sincerity of her text has the power to reach back up to the top of the page, inflecting a dead phrase with newfound compassion. Which is to say, when she opens, “Dear Sarah,” I believe she means to convey that I am in fact “dear” to her. It’s a gift to write so kindly.
It is my aim to plagiarize Paola’s gifts as much as possible, to have you skip back up to the greeting and read it not as formal and impersonal (standard greeting, broad institution), but as kindly of a Hello as I can muster. Hello, Northwestern. Dear place. Dear people.
Hopefully the sprawling contents of this year’s welcome back letter–packed with links, dates, and even a little malcontent–will nevertheless move you to read that simple “Dear” as genuine and meant for you.
Welcome and welcome back, dear Northwestern. I am glad you are here.
Continued from newsletter:
If you are new to campus or to the Women’s Center a couple of sentences from our strategic plan offer a quick way into what we are about: “The Women’s Center pursues gender justice for staff, faculty, and students through advocacy, support, education, and research. We are committed to gender justice institutionally, locally, nationally, and globally for women and gender expansive people.” That’s our deal.
Not unlike my pipe dreams of revitalizing the most tired of salutations, I have immodest plans for the phrase “strategic plan.” It’s corporate and hackneyed, and maybe the best phrase we have to describe a set of actions we are committed to in service to our values, aspirations, and responsibilities. Our plan is the work of many and I hope you will either find time to read it or see my colleagues and I present it at some point this year.
Whether or not you are invested in the “why” of our work, I hope you will find something that speaks to you in our year of programming. melisa has selected the theme “Lessons from Harm Reduction” and has an extraordinary plan for building a communal conversation to which all are welcome over the course of the year.
Some Center favorites will return: the fall reading group, our open houses on October 11th (Evanston) and 19th (Chicago), quarterly trans centered programming, feminist field trips, and back from hiatus the popular and powerful Solution-Focused Feminist Coaching with Njoki Kamau.
There is totally new stuff too.
We will host what we hope will be informal but impactful conversations with Northwestern faculty and staff on Reproductive Justice, beginning in Evanston with Dr. Hyska of Philosophy and moving then to lunch hour meetings at our Chicago campus.
Thanks to the generous support of the Kreeger Wolf Fund, this spring we will be offering students and student organizations a series of workshops on best practices for reproductive justice activism and harm reduction taught by Chicagoland organizers/revolutionaries.
Thanks to the generous support of One Book and numerous campus partners, we will be inviting back former Feminist in Residence Fellow and founder of the Earthseed Black Family Archive Project, JeShawna Wholley, for an online evening of reflection with Jakalia Brown and Christen Smiley on their first national cohort showcase.
One Book is also shining some light on the Social Justice Campus Tours project that the Women’s Center has developed in partnership with the University Libraries and Native American and Indigenous Affairs. If you can’t catch a live tour, the Black Experience, Indigenous, and Feminist Tours are all three available as GPS guided audio tours on our shared site.
In this issue of our newsletter you will get to know the 2022 - 2023 Feminist in Residence Fellow, jireh l. drake. We are also thrilled to introduce you to our promising new undergraduate staff. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the full cast of extraordinary talent working in our two centers, new or not. It is the best way to get a picture of the work we do.
I get pretty excited about these people and these events and initiatives. We have, I think, a solid reputation for focusing on what’s possible and celebrating what liberates us. That joy and initiative is rooted, nevertheless, in the study of shared oppression and clear-eyed perspective on threats to our autonomy. Most, if not all, of the work we take on is in response to stolen history, direct harm, and the tangible consequences of injustice. It’s not much of a contradiction at all, really. The work is hard and we love doing it. Dear Northwestern, we hope you will join us.
September 2022 - Welcome President Schill
Dear Campus Community,
As Directors of two units expressly dedicated to gender-related justice and education, we are excited to welcome our 17th president of Northwestern University, Michael H. Schill.
During Professor Schill’s tenure as President, the University of Oregon made great strides across several areas with deep impact for LGBTQIA and gender expansive students. These include the capacity for students to register their names and pronouns in university data systems; wider availability of all-gender restrooms and clear, prominent mapping of access to those restrooms; gender expansive housing facilities; and some programs that stand out even among peer institutions known for inclusivity, such as Trans Feminine Voice Coaching, an LGBTQIA+ Scholars program, and the presence of an onsite endocrinologist as a resource during transition. These are some of the reasons the University of Oregon earns five out of five stars from Campus Pride and consistently ranks among the U.S. Most LGBTQIA+ Friendly colleges.
We know UO’s accomplishments are thanks to the work of many and are proud to report that President Schill will find an equally engaged and informed community at Northwestern—staff, faculty, and students who have been paving the way for meaningful improvements to gender inclusion on this campus and who are eager to make swift and meaningful change. With Northwestern resources and dedication at his disposal, our new President will have the opportunity to shepherd much-needed growth in this area, perhaps even exceeding Oregon’s example. Several initiatives that mirror or complement those described above are already in planning stages – some of them quite far along – and will profit hugely from the kinds of leadership and direct public support that President Schill modeled in his previous post.
Northwestern has work to do. As President Schill assumes his new role, we wish to communicate that many members of this campus stand excited, hopeful, and ready to create and sustain a better experience for gender expansive and queer staff, faculty, and students.
In solidarity and with optimism,
Sarah Brown Nick Davis
Director, Women’s Center Director, Gender &
Sexuality Studies Program
July 2022 - post Dobbs Decision
The Women’s Center wishes to express our unapologetic and unequivocating commitment to bodily autonomy and abortion access for all those in need of this care. We know that people are looking to their institutions for recognition that this loss is historic, oppressive, and life threatening and we are proud to stand as one such space.
But my sense is that there is a hunger also for perspective which I will do my best to provide.
Let’s begin with a very empowering book . Sonya Renee Taylor has coined the phrase body terrorism to capture what is common to violence, fatphobia, ableism, and bodily shame. She reminds us that “bodies are not the only designators of oppression, but all oppression is enacted on the body.” For me, this piece of news (which I include as a link to be accessed with care and caution) epitomizes what it is to terrorize a body. There is a lesser terror too to the seemingly daily reminders that abuse of those most vulnerable serves as the moral position of the government that represents us.
Sometimes, as in this case, we name forced reproduction as body terrorism in the same breath that we name rape, mutilation, being abandoned to unchecked violence or targeted by state violence, and even the mundane practice of learned self-shame because they are literally co-constituted. But even when the experiences stand apart, the comparative framework of body terrorism serves to hone our understanding of the relationship between power and harm. For many of us, because of our race, our gender, our sex, our culture, our trauma, the journey toward truly believing our bodies are our own is life long. Every threat sets us back. We need our friends to respond vociferously and consistently to those threats which touch us but not them.
When we say it is my body and my choice, that choice is every choice—from positive consent for intimacy and sex, to the demand for safety, to gender expression, to reproduction.
As a distinctly and uniquely gendered space on campus, the Women’s Center is naturally implicated in the conversation around gendered language in the fight for abortion rights and access. Threats to bodily autonomy of every kind disproportionately affect trans individuals and cis women nationally and on this campus. The use of women-only language in the fight for abortion rights erases some of our most vulnerable community members, forestalls necessary coalition building, and bears little advantage as a political strategy.
The gradual loss of abortion access serves as but one example. In failing to focus on the Hyde amendment, some pro choice movements over the past fifty years let go the cause of medicaid coverage for abortion (and in effect those in poverty or uninsured) in a zero sum decision that assumed access could be sacrificed in the name of judicial certainty (see the reporting of Amy Littlefield among others). We are very good, presently and historically, at leaving one another behind when we feel our rights and our bodies under threat. The fear is understandable but it doesn’t serve us. Coalitions that self-emulate at the first sign of turbulence crumble, dissipate, or set themselves up for deep and long term loss in the interest of momentary gain. People get pregnant. People need abortions. It does not diminish the cause to say so.
To this end, it is my sincere wish that you will notice not just inclusive language but an absence of panic and the continued presence of intersectional advocacy and education at our center in the months to come. Collective liberation remains the goal even or especially when forces beyond our control mean to interrupt us.
It sustains me to think expansively about bodily autonomy, choice, and coalition because I truly believe it all matters and it will all add up. If the abortion access organization you wish to volunteer for cannot accommodate you at this time (They cannot. They are, gratefully and unanimously, overwhelmed by would-be helping hands), there is so much to be done both up and downstream of abortion that clears a path for that work. I am happy to share what our Women’s Center is planning to contribute toward education and action in the months to come, and to share what I know of what is available to you beyond our walls about how to get involved and how to receive care.
Our website has ever been a resource for local and national reproductive justice services and advocacy groups. This list is available also in print at both of our centers.
Furthermore, for anyone looking to get involved in pro-abortion activism, I highly recommend attending Operation Save Abortion online on Sunday July 17th at 10am central. We will gather at the Evanston Women’s Center to watch and discuss this national, full-day training sponsored by Abortion Access Front. It is also free to attend from your own home.
In coordination with several campus partners, we are looking both to this moment and the long term by providing history, nuance, and opportunities to act toward a future of genuine, inclusive reproductive justice. This work is and has been underway already and is, as it should be, profoundly collaborative across Northwestern’s campuses.
In the coming academic year, our center will be hosting a series of conversations around reproductive justice that draw from the wealth of expertise already available here at Northwestern. As a brief preview, we will host conversations like one to be led by Professor Megan Hyska of Philosophy on the moral permissibility of abortion. And a separate session which seeks to expand conversations of choice to threats to democracy upon which our reproductive justice dreams surely depend. Please reach out if you wish to lead a session or wish to recommend another to do so. Details on how to register to attend will be available at the start of fall quarter.
There will be larger-scale speaking engagements, workshops, and demonstrations, some of which we are already looking to cosponsor and assist with, in particular with CARE, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and as a representative unit of OIDI.
We are not alone. NU faculty have recently provided important context and on July 12, NorthwesternPritzker School of Law, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications will host a panel discussion on the potential impacts of the court’s decision.
I know folks are looking also for for practical, concise information about access for our own students, staff, and faculty. As it relates to coverage, I received the following responses (and permission to share out) from our HR Benefits and Student Insurance Offices, respectively:
Northwestern remains committed to supporting our faculty, staff and their families in making
personal and confidential health care decisions. At this time we do not expect the recent Supreme
Court decision to impact the Northwestern health plan coverage for participants who reside in the
State of Illinois. For participants who reside outside of Illinois, we are monitoring state-specific
legislation that impacts health care access. There will be communication to participants as needed.
Employees may use incidental sick time, personal floating holidays, personal leave and vacation time
when accessing health care and for post-care recovery.
At this time, we do not expect the recent Supreme Court ruling to impact students who reside in the state
of Illinois and are enrolled in the Northwestern University Student Health Insurance Plan (NU-SHIP).
If students who are actively enrolled in the NU-SHIP and reside outside of Illinois are impacted by the
ruling, it would be a direct result of specific state legislation and not due to any exclusions or plan
limitations of the NU-SHIP.
The NU-SHIP policy states that once the annual deductible amount has been met, Aetna will pay 80% of
in-network, medical necessary services (including abortion services), and the student is responsible for
the remaining 20% co-insurance amount. The NU-SHIP provides out-of-network coverage at 60% of the
recognized charge after the out-of-network deductible has been met.
For a detailed overview of what the NU-SHIP covers, please review the
2021-22 Plan Design & Benefits Summary. If there are remaining questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, and I will be more than willing to answer them.
It is my hope that all members of our community feel empowered to take full advantage of all available resources and to name aloud the gaps as they encounter them.
In times like this it is easy to feel like all we are doing is reacting. I very genuinely do not believe it. It is so astonishingly hard and there is so much in our way but we are building the future and we are bringing everyone.
Northwestern University Women’s Center
May 2022 - post Supreme Court Leaked draft
Dear Campus Community,
I have had quite a few requests for my thoughts this week. I have opted to share them in this format, by which I mean on the Women’s Center website and so quoted in full, but I also decidedly mean in a form in which I elect to be equal parts messy and honest.
My first thought isn’t a thought at all.
I feel a twinge in my center in moments when I am reminded that my bodily autonomy is open for discussion and even denial. Really it is just a gesture, something just shy of doubling over. Even when we knew this was coming, it has, for me, a sour somatic presence all the same.
My next thoughts are these:
I belong to an international community and since we are talking about domestic law it is worth noting, also a broadly national one. This is not a local school. Like me, many of our students, staff, and faculty come from many states. Some of those states have people in power who are profoundly hostile toward the right to choose. I believe our transplanted community has a responsibility to our vast networks to spread, at least for now, a message something like this: While often scarcely provided and difficult to come by, You Continue to Have the Right to An Abortion Under Federal Law. Keep Your Appointment. Keep Your Fight.
My next thought is of We Do This Til We Free Us author and the MLK Dream Week Keynote speaker in 2021, Mariame Kaba. After a long day on my part, I am paraphrasing one of her first rules for coming into activist work: to find if and where it is already happening and join up with that work. If the leaked opinion shook something in you and you feel moved to be involved, please do so, and please do so without inventing a new group unless you know the thing you need to say isn’t being said four blocks over by a crew who could use your support and your perspective. Dara McGee and Stephanie Chen, grad and undergrad staff (respectively) at the Women’s Center have been compiling Illinois-based Reproductive Justice resources and we have updated this page to reflect that research.
And finally because gender justice broadly-speaking is my job, I think across injustices that seem inextricably bound together to me. Last week was Take Back the Night week here at NU and at universities across the country. NU’s Thursday night rally was well organized but poorly attended. Some student speakers expressed some pretty profound disappointment that in a year in which many and various forms of sexual violence have been made public on our campus, more people didn’t feel compelled to come out. Not everyone is ready. It isn’t the right time or choice for every survivor. But in the aggregate, I find their frustrations well-founded and I too carried a bit of grief alongside my pride in the thin but mighty crowd of marchers. Where was everyone?
If it isn’t abundantly clear, communities of people who believe that women’s bodies, trans bodies, nonbinary bodies have no right to determine their own health care, have no right to insist on their autonomy, have no right to privacy, have no right to self-possession, and in some cases, have no right to exist – these communities are most assuredly working together.
We need to too.
I hope to see you at the soon to be finalized RJ/Roe Teach In. I hope you will come even or especially if you aren’t certain how you feel about abortion.
For those of you carrying the pit of a state threat heavy in your gut this week, I just want you to know that I not only share that dull nausea, I think it is the most called-for of reactions. I hope you can prioritize your own healing and your own rage. I’ll be doing the same.
Women's Center Director
Please check back for reading recommendations and resource updates.
October 2022 - Welcome Back
Dear Friends of the Women’s Center,
It’s tradition for the Director of the Women’s Center to open the year with a letter of welcome. While I know we are well into the quarter, I am only a week or so into my new position, so I hope you will forgive this tardy but heartfelt note of welcome and gratitude.
I am writing to you from the tail end of a very busy, very joy-filled week. In addition to planting my own feet, three new people joined our Center staff this week. Please find bios for each of them in this month’s newsletter. Lami is based in Chicago (huzzah!) and is the responsible party for both a renewed sense of community in that space and the beautiful new layout for the newsletter. Hannah has already been contributing to the Women’s Center as an organizer of the Graduate Womxn of Color Group, but is now also taking a more formal role as our Graduate and PostDoc Programming Coordinator, and Stephanie is a junior but also a transfer student so we are very happy to have her mix of honed people skills and fresh perspective at our front desk and in the review of our Center’s accessibility. They are joining a team of myself, melisa stephen, Aaliyah Berryman, and Njoki Kamau once she returns from leave, effectively doubling our work force and bringing so much new energy and expertise into our space.
As you know we are focusing on Disability Justice as Feminist Practice this year. Melisa and I have been discussing the use of the word “as” vs “and” in the title of our theme. It may seem like a small choice, but we hope that our communities will note our intention to disrupt the notion that access is separate or combinatory, that it is something we get to when other work is done.
Feminism has always been, at its core, an argument that the world ought to be made for us to thrive within. Where the history of feminism is troubled is where the “us” is taken for something narrow or niche. I have high hopes for the capaciousness of the term going forward. For our part, Disability Justice as Feminist Practice argues that DJ doesn’t so much contribute to feminist thought as informs and shares a fundamental set of principles central to a feminist future worth making. When we call the Women’s Centers feminist spaces, we hope you will hear that these are places to put our anti-oppression frameworks into practice--to exercise fat liberation, engage in pro-queer world making, practice anti-racism, support survivors, and invest in justice for every body.
We will be inviting scholars and activists to help us make these connections for our Women’s History Month Symposium. I will be teaching the expanded canon of feminist disability justice in my spring course Feminism and Social Change, and a deep dive into disability justice as theory and practice is already underway in the Care Work reading group melisa facilitates.
We have also promised in the year to come that we will center the lives and experiences of our trans community each quarter and so we shall. This quarter we are hosting a workshop by Chicago-based artist and organizer jireh l. drake called “Plant Care as Self Care,”something that could surely benefit anyone but is specifically designed to uplift and support the wellness of a community subject to much gender injustice on and off campus.
As the newsletter and our expanded staff forecast, there is much more to come. And in some sense literal new ground on which to build it.
If you have been to the Evanston Women’s Center recently, you will have noted a deep trench snaking its way around the building as part of the steam pipe replacement construction project. All of the ground that surrounds us has been turned over for important work that is nearly complete. The deep tilling of the soil around us (and our crabapple tree’s determination to thrive within it) remind me that this land holds both a potential and a past that feeds us but is not ours to claim. In the spirit of that recognition and the homecoming I was privileged to witness this morning at the launch of Wayne Valliere’s birch bark canoe into a turbulent Lake Michigan, I would like to close with a note of thanks to our broad community of humans and to the land where we do our work, the traditional homelands of the Council of the Three fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa.
Spring 2021 Letter
Dear Northwestern Women’s Center Community,
I hope spring has found you healthy and whole. I feel invited by the ever-changing weather and the complexities of vaccine access globally to seek abundance and caution simultaneously. I look forward to walking that line with care and in good company in the coming months.
In our previous newsletter we featured Sekile’s send-off as she exits her role as the Director of the Women’s Center, a position she has held since fall of 2017. Sekile has been an inspiring leader, a compassionate colleague, and a source of innovative ideas that have moved this center and this campus forward. On behalf of our full staff, I wish her every success in her new role as the Chief Diversity Officer for Governor Pritzker.
Look Back at Winter Quarter
I am especially pleased that our collective efforts saw Sekile off on a high note. Associate Director, Njoki Kamau, brought her usual brilliance to an online International Women’s Day celebration, we played a delightful game, and we cheered for Trina Whittaker, the 2021 recipient of the Shujaa Award for gender equity. Members of Trina’s extended family from a variety of time zones attended, reminding me how vital it is that those engaging in the difficult and often uncompensated labor of seeking equity be acknowledged—for their efforts, and so that we might each have the chance re-ground ourselves in the impact of often invisible work.
I suspect many of you were with us also during our Annual Symposium, which featured a plenary discussion between Kelly Hayes and Dean Spade and a panel of Evanston-area and campus organizers. You still have an opportunity to watch the symposium on our website. While you are there, you may wish to check out all seven (!) interviews our staff conducted with Chicagoland mutual aid organizers. Each thirty-minute conversation provides a new depth of understanding for life and justice affirming work taking place all around us and the often intimate perspective of those who feel called to engage in radical community building.
The infographic shared below is meant to, in part, show our center some love for the reach of our Women’s History Month. But not all value is easily quantified. Our winter quarter was productive because when Kelly and Dean talked about the dangers of mainstreaming mutual aid to strip it of its politics, it served as a reminder that we are not in the business of making systems of oppression more palatable, but of ending them. Our work in March was successful because we thought we were out of energy, but we found it in each other. It is very truly my honor to be taking part in this work however I can. And because I know that many are invested in the future of this community, I want to take this chance to name directly where my attention will be during my time as the Interim Director of the Women’s Center.
Priorities for Spring & Summer
We will be working to organize a new student staff orientation process, with the aid of our campus partners, to help ground the extraordinary young people who work with us in our shared values and practices and to better prepare them for the aspects of feminist work that can be challenging.
We will continue to be a lead partner in taking account of and advancing gender inclusive initiatives across campus on behalf of OIDI, in coordination with MSA, GSS, SPAN, the Office of Equity and individuals who have offered their time and expertise. Separately, we will be moving on plans to make the Women’s Center itself a more gender inclusive and affirming environment. We are pursuing this through professional development opportunities for our full and part time staff and an intentional move, masterminded by our Program Coordinator melisa stephen, to get beyond offering trans-inclusive and toward offering trans-centered programming in the coming year.
A committee of both general advisory and student advisory board members will select next year’s Feminist in Residence, even as we join this year’s resident Hanky Song in celebrating the work of the han heung 한흥 恨興 media collective that she has fostered during her residency.
Dr. Veronica Womack and Njoki Kamau will be offering A Space for Us over the summer months to center the experiences of Black Women and Nonbinary Staff, Graduate and Professional Students, and faculty from the Evanston and Chicago campuses and serve as an opportunity to check in on each other, connect, share experiences, build community, and create strategies for navigating race and gender.
We will launch an audio, GPS guided, Feminist Campus Tour as part of a broader project of Social Justice Tours organized with Charla Wilson, University Archivist for the Black Experience and Jasmine Gurneau, Manager for Native American and Indigenous Initiatives. Though the launch event won’t come until fall, the website and all three tours—Feminist Campus, Black Student Experience, and Indigenous—will be made available on June first.
As summer approaches, melisa, Njoki, and I will be reviewing our programming and assessment methods so as to make some of the strides we have taken in accessibility during the remote work period a permanent part of our operations. One of the primary aims of this period of reflection will be to build on new relationships forged with faculty, staff, and graduate students based on the Chicago campus.
Njoki is joining me and the Institute for Global Health on our supplemental NIH grant. We are working with incredible faculty and staff colleagues at the University of Lagos who are revising policy and formulating training to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and misconduct within their institution.
We are planning the construction of a modest, raised-bed garden on our Evanston Center’s lawn. It’s a good opportunity for programming out of doors in response to lingering health concerns but it is also an apt and I would argue, necessary, metaphor for this moment in time.
And of course, we will look forward to being fully staffed again as soon as possible. We are privileged to have the full support of our new Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Robin Means Coleman in making this transition run smoothly.
The below infographic asks you to “Check In” because it means to ground our community in our present moment, one in which we are mindful of all we accomplished under Sekile’s leadership and excited for what's just around the bend: sex week; a partnership with WIND, Hobart, One Book, and the writers of Grace House; and an international conversation about collectives and digital media, to name a few. I hope to see you at some of these virtual events and, before too long, within the very blue or purple walls of the Women's Centers.
Please click on the image below to enlarge and gain access to links within.
All links and information are available also below in plain text, list form.
Check In with the Women’s Center
Duplicate content from PDF infographic in list form.
269 People watched our Women’s History Month Symposium. 126 logged into the webinar and 143 watched later on facebook.
You can watch the full event on our website.
Read about our theme here.
Or read about it in this article from the Daily Northwestern.
Every fourth Friday of Summer, A Space for Us will convene.
You can click here to access the first event page.
In 28 days we will launch the website for Social Justice Tours of Northwestern. No link.
Feminist in Residence Hankyeol Song is working with Block Cinema to host a films screening and discussion called Dreaming Rivers, Weaving Collectives.
Here is a link to the event.
Here is a link to more information about the event and the Feminist in Residence.
Here is a link to more information about the film.
Trina Whittaker was named Shujaa 2021.
Find out more about Trina and this award here.
In 11 days the Women’s Center is partnering with College Feminists to offer a screening and discussion with the filmmaker of erotica called Nueve Lenguas.
Here is a link to the event page.
Here is a link to the overall Sex Week schedule.
On May 26th, WIND, Hobart, One Book, and The Women’s Center will present “Women of Courage: Stories of Post-Incarceration Resilience” a recitation of original work by the women of Grace House.
8 women will share their work.
Here is a link to the event description and registration.
Here is a link to the organizers, Women Initiating New Directions.
Mutual Aid Interviews carried out by Women’s Center Staff had 1,333 total views on Facebook (as of last week).
We spoke with seven different organizations.
Here is a link to more information about these individuals and the groups they represent, and the page where you can watch the videos.
Spring 2021 Letter - Sekile's Farewell
Fall 2020 - Welcome Back