Community Notes from Our Newsletter
from, all staff November 7th.
In 1903 the United Kingdom proposed 5000 square miles (3,200,000 acres) of the central highlands of Kenya as a home state for people of the Jewish faith for whom the founding of a nation held import.
We were surprised to learn of it, the seven of us gathered around our fire pit on the lawn of 2000 Sheridan Road one weekday afternoon. But not surprised by its source. Women’s Center Associate Director Njoki Kamau grew up in those highlands, in an agricultural community called Kiangoma village, in Nyeri. And while she didn’t learn this piece of thwarted history until after making the move to the U.S., the knowledge of it resonated with her experience as a child of colonialism.
It is a distinctive experience to be counted as an expendable people, one that isn’t easily shaken by time or place. The Indigenous peoples of North America know it, the descendants of enslaved Africans know it, Jewish people know it, and the people of Palestine know it too.
What they have in common is that power is the source of their subjugation. The British offered Kenya, offered territory in the Levant, because they felt entitled to the fates of entire populations of nonwhite or non-Christian peoples. Such entitlement is the basic premise of colonialism, the defining logic of white supremacy, and the binding wire of intersectional forms of oppression, including sexism, the eradication of which is the stated mission of the unit we are so proud to call our own.
So, we lit a fire. We sat for over three hours on the cleared slate of a workday to be in conversation. There were a lot of steps toward arriving at a decision, but this is the decision we made: no newsletter from our center has ever abdicated itself from what is most pressing and most painful in the world we inhabit. And we won’t start now.
As our contribution to the discourse on campus we wish to do our small part to provide in the spaces where we recognize inequity and need for a space for dialogue. And we want to honor the privilege of a collective voice, and the trust of those who read our newsletters, by speaking decisively about peace.
Two weeks ago, students in support of Palestine wrote to university leadership asking them to acknowledge and condemn acts of doxing, threats, and misinformation. Perhaps many of our newsletter recipients are unaware of the context to which President Schill and Provost Hagerty were responding in their October 26th correspondence. In the footnotes of this letter, you can locate a summary of events shared with permission from leadership of the student organization, Northwestern University Community for Human Rights.1 What we are not reproducing are the gendered, racialized, violent, and vile attacks on the student org Instagram page that were also shared with us.
We are not alone in responding to these students’ call to be seen and accounted for. But our campus is falling short of the response needed to counteract harm stemming from coordinated efforts like those of the canary mission or the growing chorus of inflammatory rhetoric—ranging from the overt invocation of the all-too-slippery concept of evil to the more subtle juxtaposition in which Israeli’s have been “killed,” while Palestinians are merely “suffering," the Hamas attack was “murderous,” and the Israeli military owns no such adjective, nor any active verb.
In response to inequities both material and rhetorical, inspired by an event hosted by the Asian American Studies Program in October, and in coordination with our annual theme, Collective Hope is a Radical Practice, our center will be hosting an evening for healing and community, centering the experiences of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students on November 16th. We know it isn’t enough. We know it doesn’t speak to hurt from every angle.
As the NUCHR letter points out, Jewish students need support as well. To that end all students have access to resources shared out by student affairs leadership last week. Additionally, Jewish students turn to Hillel, though many anti-Zionist Jewish students struggle to find equally solid ground to be in community. And though it may come as cool comfort to all of us horrified or even impacted by the massacre by Hamas on October 7th, we exist within a dominant culture that has been consistent and clear in its condemnation of that event. It is worth reporting simple facts, then, that in a small strip of land in which nearly half of the population is under eighteen, there are more than 10,000 Gazans killed.
So, we are asking for members of our community to vocalize condemnation for doxing and harassment in a manner that acknowledges the inequities of our support services and national and institutional discourse. And we are inviting reflection that pushes us beyond raw feelings and into a question of our collective responsibility.
Palestinian American poet Noor Hindi writes “I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies.” It is a devasting way to feel. At our core, I believe it is this—our involuntary status as the makers of never-ending violence—that is the actual common ground of our suffering and our overwhelm in such a moment. And it is what we actually have to answer for. We can acknowledge that our world and our country are over-run by genuine acts of anti-Arab and antisemitic hate. We can grieve according to our lineages–our memory of the Shoa, our ties to a besieged people. We can even disagree cogently and substantively about the politics of our grieving. We have a right and obligation to call for the safe return of all hostages. But for those who seek the comfort of community stripped of context and complicity, we are asking you to remember that while your opinions may be even-handed, the bombs funded by the nation you presently work and study within fly only one way.
In times like these, we start to hear proposals to gather campus communities across difference to share in objectless grief and, the most oxymoronic of things, solidarity sans alliance. The Women’s Center supports the notion of our community coming together. If the students, staff, and faculty of Northwestern are gathered in dialogue, however, surely we would need to begin by being honest about who we truly are: the people who collectively make up a powerful institution in the nation with the world’s deadliest military. If we have anything at all to say to one another and to the world listening, what other utterance could possibly be worthy of us than to call for a permanent “Cease Fire”?
FN: Excerpt from NUCHR
On Wednesday, October 11, Fox News commentator and Northwestern alumnus Guy Benson posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) about an Instagram post by Northwestern University Community for Human Rights (NUCHR), an undergraduate student group. His post to his 355,000 followers falsely characterized NUCHR as “justifying mass slaughter.” His post sparked days of abuse. Members of NUCHR’s executive board had their full names and other information doxxed on X. Strangers, current and former Northwestern students, and trolls left threatening comments under NUCHR’s Instagram posts. One user even tried to call the NUCHR Instagram after leaving threatening messages [...] The executive board of NUCHR is made up of people of color, predominantly women, and many board members are Muslim. As seen in the images [not here included], much of the abuse was specifically Islamophobic and misogynistic. This type of response is to students who are simply exercising their right to free speech, the same right that Northwestern University ostensibly guarantees its students. Regardless of one's individual stance, this abuse is unwarranted, uncollegial, and contrary to the values that Northwestern as a university claims to hold.
[. . .]
Right now, Muslim and Palestinian students do not feel safe at Northwestern University. Students who are mourning the loss of Palestinian lives, especially those who are grieving family and friends, are being coerced and threatened into silence. Despite the unsafe atmosphere, this institution is not doing enough to ensure the wellness of these students. It was Palestinian students who reached out to President Schill to ask if he would come to the vigil for Palestine; the offer was declined. Clearly, students are doing the work of asking for support and are being denied. The post on X by Guy Benson reached thousands of people, and Northwestern University was also tagged in the post, so it is plausible that Northwestern is aware of these attacks. Yet, no one reached out to NUCHR or affected students to provide support. There were no statements from the university asking for harassment to stop or deeming such behavior unacceptable. Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students don’t have a center on campus, whereas those who are Jewish or align with Israel do–there is nowhere for these students to go and the support is not equal.
October 2023 - Annual Theme Announcement
“Hope is a discipline.”
“Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.”
- Mariame Kaba
With climate catastrophe looming, the escalation of anti-trans moral panic, and an ongoing pandemic, among other dire concerns, these are indeed messy times. And while more and more people are becoming politicized and aware of the need for radical transformation, it’s overwhelming. The sheer amount of misinformation, disinformation, and flat out violence can and does make the thought of leaving the daunting task of societal change to others–young people, organizers, activists, “experts,” the universe, – quite tempting. Many of us are exhausted, burnt out, disillusioned, and hurt. Some of us find ourselves seeking comfort in a cold armor of cynicism. This is where the above words of wisdom on hope by abolitionist organizer, educator, and curator and our 2021 MLK Dream Week keynote speaker Mariame Kaba present an intriguing directive and a powerful (re)frame that we at the Women’s Center are taking to heart.
What is hope? What if instead of a fleeting emotion, something you have or don’t have at any given moment, hope is a verb: an action, a skill to cultivate, a craft to hone? Not an aspiration, thought experiment, or toxic positivity, but a daily practice grounded in movement and community. How might this expand how we think of resistance and struggle and simultaneously relieve us from the overwhelm of solving the world’s problems alone? Huge victories like the erasure of Chicago’s gang database or Illinois becoming the first state to abolish money bond via the Pretrial Fairness Act help us chip away at larger targeted structures and are culminations of countless “smaller” invisible victories, radical practices of collective hope embodied. This year at the Women’s Center we will be reading and drawing inspiration from the recently published book Let this Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care, co-authored by Kaba and Menominee organizer and educator Kelly Hayes, as we meditate on what it means to anchor our work in a radical practice of collective hope.
Join us this year, and stay tuned to our newsletter and Instagram for related content and updates about our upcoming programs. We extend the challenge that Maya Schenwar poses in the book’s forward as an open invitation to anyone engaging with our programming this year: let this radicalize you. As Schenwar advises, “To do this, you will need to let your guard all the way down. Let your inner cynic take a nap. Tell your inner devil’s advocate to take a few days off. Then let yourself be lifted by the stories of the organizers that fill these pages–people who are stubbornly practicing hope each day and taking imaginative action, in spite of doubts, losses, and heartbreak.”
Lastly, we invite you to lean in the cozy autumnal vibes and feast your eyes on the stunning original artwork above, created by Chicago artist Cori Lin of onibaba studio, that so beautifully captures this year’s theme. Hope, like a fire, is a point of gathering, connection, and warmth that must be diligently tended to.
What kindling can you offer?
Welcome Back - September 2023
Welcome to a new academic year.
It has been an exceptionally noisy summer. In this welcome back issue of the WC Newsletter, it is our aim to counter the clammer with the sweet sounds of affirming goings-on and to offer voice to some silences potentially missed in so much commotion.
In our soon to follow October issue you will find an announcement from melisa stephen regarding our 2023-2024 thematic programming. As ever, it is thoughtful, on-time (politically), on-point (in all the ways), and I cannot wait for them to share it with you. Hints in the reading group signup, to be sure.
We are welcoming Feminist in Residence Kyrin Hobson to our center this year. We have moved the Evanston Open House date now (and forevermore if I have my way) to Halloween. The Chicago Open House will be more chill but beautifully aimed at community care a week earlier. Last but not least, as part of our function as a unit within OIDI, we have just promised thirteen projects seed funding to pursue trans & gender expansive inclusion in a wide range of areas over the course of this year.
It is our privilege and our purpose to offer such gender-liberating programming and to speak to a need for gender analysis as it arises. I see no reason to be coy about it; it’s why we are here.
The vocabularies of hazing rituals in masculinized spaces are reliably homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. A colleague is ostensibly motivated by humiliation; humiliation is synonymous with feminization, to be made the ‘woman’ of the group. It is an offense to the whole of our campus community. One half plus is the butt of the joke; the other half is both subject to abuse themselves and circumscribed to an infinitesimal space in which to practice hegemonic masculinity or risk being cast out of the rites of a group central to their lives. Contrary to what some assume, patriarchal definitions of toughness and falling in line with standards that are cis, white, and straight function just as readily in spaces occupied by women. These trends are well documented as are the ways in which they contribute to a far deeper rot, such as the preponderance of rape culture and mal-effects on mental health.
We need accountability of course. I am as disappointed by the silence around a key figure’s sense of entitlement to judge and categorize women worth knowing as I was by our university’s silence around the Dobb’s decision a year ago. People have ideas about what you or I ought and ought not to do with our bodies and it seems Northwestern’s official stance on that is that it is fine.
But even as that desire for justice in the form of an equivalence of outrage remains a motivating force, I am so much less interested in building a campus community armed with sharp tools to weed out harm than I am in creating the kinds of spaces for which the prevalence of harm is reduced as a natural byproduct of meaningful, robust, proactive investments in care. Our leadership is investigating and thinking big in some promising ways, such as the aim to “[build] Northwestern’s athletic department into a national model for integrity and student well-being” (“Building on the Best of Northwestern” profile on President Schill for Northwestern Magazine).
Even so, if we fail to name the systems of domination being called in to inform and embolden acts of harm, we can expect superficial roster changes to bear effects that are precisely that, superficial. It makes less sense to seek out a magical someone who is an expert at both a sport and social justice informed approaches to team building than it is to call forth as equals disparate parts of this campus to work together to build actual affirming community. We have an excellent Assistant Director of Prevention & Masculine Engagement at CARE, by way of example, but he is one person. I am, unprompted, suggesting we invest in the experts we already have so that working as one with an entity as large (in number and influence) as our friends in athletics is actually possible.
It is good news that we have some very knowledgeable people in my own house and across the street—literally, within the CIC and down at Searle, and OIDI—and that these people consider themselves responsible to culture-building wheresoever it is called for. We are all partners across these campuses.
And we need to be.
In Judith Herman’s powerful and well researched Truth and Repair, she finds that survivors of interpersonal violence are often less invested in the comeuppance of a solitary perpetrator than many assume. They feel, so often, a sense of betrayal held for the whole community in which they were harmed. It is not a confused trauma-response or a misplacement of accountability. It is a real question. How did you let this happen?
We miss a real chance, I think, if we point to a single lawsuit or an individual in power while we ask it. What if instead of tapping your index finger to a space on a front page, you opened your arms wide and asked it again.
How did you let this happen? How did I?
End of Year Sign Off - May 2023
When I think about the history of the Women’s Center, I like to think about it in three general phases. The first phase (1986 - 1995) involved putting the basics together. It is what one would call a nuts-and-bolts phase, in other words raising the Center from the ground. At that time, there were no policies against sexual harassment or sexual assault. So, a major portion of the Center’s early work consisted of advocating for the creation of such policies, as well as hiring of staff to implement them. The Center saw itself as a catalyst to help bring about an equitable landscape for women. Its overall vision was always guided by a social justice ethos.
During the second phase (1995 - 2017), the Women’s Center’s focus was on consolidating its work and continuing to advocate for more resources for faculty, students, and staff. During this phase, the Center alongside others was very actively involved in advocating for resources for the LGBTQ community. The Center’s Director of Programs and the Associate Director served on the Campus LGBTQ Campus Advisory Network for about 10 years. This effort resulted in the creation of the LGBTQ Resource Center, and the hiring of staff to run it.
During its current period, namely the third phase (2017 - to the present), the Women’s Center has deepened its work to center and support trans and nonbinary members members of our community. Using a gender justice lens to guide its work, the Center has been providing a rich array of programs and services to our NU community. This has sent a strong signal that all are welcome, including those who may not have seen the Center as a place for them in the past. When you presently step into the Women’s Center, you will quickly become aware just by looking at the surroundings that this is a place that is inclusive. In other words, a place where people have spent a significant amount of time thinking and creating a culture that is informed by gender justice.
Come visit us. You will not be disappointed!
Northwestern University Women's Center
IMAGE DESCRIPTION (WITH LINKS): The above infographic is a long off-white rectangle with a variety of sans serif fonts in turqoise blue, light pink, and maroon. The title of the page is "Gender Justice by the numbers" and the header image is a maroon drawing of the Women's Center house. The subtitle reads, "An Annual Review of what YOU have been up to at the Women's Center!"
Row 1: A bar chart is filled in to 92% overall event success. "57 members of our community have filled out post event evaluations for Women's Center events this academic year. On a scale of one-to-ten, the average score for overall success of our events is 9.2."
Row 2: "Who Joined Us"* A bar graph depicts a ratio of roughly 10 undergraduates, 23 staff, 15 faculty, 8 graduate students, and 6 community memebers. "*Based on post-event polling.
"30+** Touchpoints: Over the course of the academic year, the Women's Center has been a primary sponsor or host of over thirty distinct events, lectures, and workshops for graduate students, faculty, staff, undergraduate students, alumni, and community members."
**Number reflects Women's Center events. Co-sponsorships are counted only where our investment of finances or labor are significant.
7 times The Daily Northwestern has featured us this year. (& one podcast)
a circular graph is filled to 85%: "85% of solution-focused feminist coachees are BIPOC"
Row 3: "Newsletter Love"
"1,457 [in bold]: "January was our most popular newsletter, opened by 1457 of you! But some of our reminders catch your attention even more. 1,877 folks opened our reminder for Women's History Month Keynote speaker, Shira Hassan!"
"Keep Clicking: Some top Links" Four illustrations link out to four of our most popular links of the year. A heart filled in blue and pink in the manner of the trans pride flag links to the HB1286 multistall all gender restroom bill witness slip." A maroon musical note links out to the Winter Soul Sis Playlist on Spotify. The book jacket for Practicing New Worlds Abolition and Emergent Strategies, Andrea J. Ritchie (Author); Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Foreword); adrienne maree brown (Introduction), a staff recommendation, links to the publisher's page. A small greenish computer with the letter's "IWD" on it links to the Women's Center's past events page, in reference to the registration for International Women's Day.
"In So Many Words: A wordcloud of our year in newsletters" this heading is accompanied by a auto-generated wordcloud in the shape of a flame with blue, purple, and light pink text. The words are too many to list, but some prominent ones include: "image; black; women's; description; info; gender; parenting; center; trans; reduction; background; queer; feminist; will; work; justice; read; harm; month; care." The cloud was created from the full text of every monthly newsletter from september through april.
Row 4: "something we did well" is a section that includes quotations from our post-event feedback form. In the first column there is a flyer for the event "Black Women Instructors: A Special Event for Northwestern Faculty and Teaching Staff" the quote below the flyer form an attendee reads, "Loved the presentations from Inger and the sneak peek of the documentary by Ava." Column two shows the flyer for "Trans + Queer Resistance to Policing." The feedback states, "This was a great event! I loved how Benji engaged with the audience and really, really listened." Column three includes the thumbnail image of the poster for "Liberatory Harm Reduction & Abolitionist Practice Workshop" with Shira Hassan. The comment is, "ASL provided, amazing presenter, the overall vibe."
Row 5: "Thank you for a wonderful year - The WC Staff"
News of the murders in Colorado Springs reached me while I was listening to a podcast about controversies with the Qatari World Cup. The government had changed their mind on beer. Would they go back on their word to allow for peaceful protest? Would gay fans be at risk of being harassed, detained, physically harmed? It was interrupted by news of yet another hate crime here in the U.S.
It was a coincidence. It wasn’t.
These are, after all, two very distant and distinct happenings—one a massacre, one a series of concessions to an illiberal government. But then so are the proposed ban on “cross dressing” in Tennessee, Child protective service agents in the homes of families to trans kids in Texas (if you only listen to one of these links, let it be this one), Florida’s so called don’t say gay law. At what point do they cease to be just moments and start to feel more like our moment?
I have been accused of Zeitgeist-thinking (Zeit is German for time. Geist roughly means ghost.). It is a fair critique and a useful flaw for the work I now do. It is an “accusation” rather than an “observation” to say that I trend toward the zeitgeist because arriving at some thesis on the spirit-of-an-age means generalizing across all kinds of difference. At the same time meaning-making is a thing we all do; walking around with a latent sense of what sort of world we inhabit is a thing we cannot opt out of. And a thing we do not experience equally.
In this moment I am haunted less by a sense that the specter of our time is violent and more by the ethereality of an ethical line with which to meet these varying degrees of violence.
For example, the Washington Post story on the World Cup I was listening to was an intelligent, well reported shrug. Human rights abuses, who knows? The second half of the podcast was about who would win the soccer games. Could we go to Qatar and hang a rainbow flag as the US Soccer Team has done and call it a day? What is even accomplished by a closed door if we abstain?
These are not rhetorical questions. But even if you or I could answer them, our private moral decision would fail to interrupt a global sporting event, just as our outrage fails to stop a person who is as poorly informed as they are well-armed from committing an atrocity.
I return in my mind again and again to Michelle Alexander’s Trump-era NYT article which argued that the rise of hated-fueled nationalism was not the coming but the going, the "resistance" to Vincent Harding's "revolutionary river." The force of these waters historically provides hope that malice is reactionary and will, ultimately, perish. I think we can agree it is taking so very long to die. And yet it is something I have to believe. It isn’t about conservativism; it is about hatred with legs and arms and teeth, with a positive presence in our world, that manifests itself on the bodies of the people it has not randomly but without cause elected to hate.
I cannot promise you Alexander was correct that the future we want is the greater force. Nor can I decide for anyone when and where and how to express outrage, to boycott, to divest. I can share, with genuine humility in the face of it all, what we at the Women’s Center do in our two little, literal corners and hope that you will share back your strategies with us or that our way of operating speaks to you in some way.
Every year at our staff retreat we participate in the same Brené Brown values activity. I know, you were expecting more, but even big dreams begin with little conversations. In it you must pick two and only two values that are your core. With permission, I am sharing our team’s choices below. The notion is that if these are the center of who you are, the ethical line you hold, then everything we do together should honor them. Mine are making a difference and joy. The first is about boundary -making. If I cannot see progress in it, it is not worthy of my time. The second is a shout out to Toni Cade Bambara’s famous quote that as a culture worker and a member of an oppressed class, it was her work to “make the revolution irresistible.” So those are my bottom lines: Will it matter? Will you like it and want more? I very much need you to want more.
If being a zeitgeister is useful as a Women’s Center Director, it is only so in proportion to how we actually spend our time, money, energy—less embodying the spirit of an age, more stuffing fanny packs and paying extraordinary Chicago-land organizers to share their stories. It is modest work that I am quite deliberately immodest about. Because we cannot afford to be shy. Because we cannot answer hate in the ether with the equally immaterial.
For example, I am writing to you on Trans Remembrance day. We should know the names of so many taken from us. We should also love the hell out of the trans folks in our lives who are still here. And know that loving them isn’t intangible; it’s a bathroom, a health plan, an affirming place to gather.
The ghost of this moment is terrifying in a very real way. I think I see that terror around me in the questions I receive about abortion access, in what keeps attendance low at so many on-campus causes and rallying cries, in the active shooter drills at my child’s school, in the retreat to arguments of language and innuendo when lives are in fact on the line.
I guess I am letting my own fear breathe in the space of this correspondence. A “letter from the director” is a genre unto itself. Everything that actually fills my soul with overwhelm gets made-over with a more clear moral voice. I make demands. I am self-aggrandizing and I make much of the centers I am privileged to be part of. There is a Dolly Pardon quote on my Evanston office door: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” That’s the voice I write in when I write as a director.
Impenitent as that voice may be, I would not presume to choose your values for you. I cannot draw that evasive ethical line for anyone but myself, and sometimes not even clearly for myself. I am summoning Dolly to suggest that in the new year, when you do know, do as you know.
And please feel invited and encouraged to do it with others who are also ready to act with intention and purpose. We are here.
Women's Center Team Core Values
Njoki Orville Sarah
Gratitude Perseverance Making a Difference
Love Risk Taking Joy
melisa Dara Morgan
Integrity Personal Fulfillment Fun
Fun Vulnerability Knowledge
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 BackDear 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 LetterDear 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 Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance 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