Notes From The GWS Chair

Section 1

fm the GWS chair

This August finds the academic year beginning with trial by fire. We are right now confronted with the emboldened violence of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Boston, San Francisco, and other cities, and with the unabashed assertion from the President of the United States that some white supremacists and Nazis are “very fine people.” We are also witness to tremendous, grassroots opposition unfolding. I write as incoming interim chair of Gender and Women’s Studies to reaffirm our department’s commitment to critical inquiry about how power and violence, but also resistance, unfold in the past and the historical present. A feminist education must be an antifascist education.

As a field and as a department here at the University of Illinois, Gender and Women’s Studies hosts broad and deep knowledge about feminist movements, black and women of color feminisms, queer and trans studies, imperialism and coloniality, and feminist and queer theories and methods across academic disciplines and fields. Students will learn that feminisms are both historical movements as well as bodies of critical inquiry, encompassing a wide range of actors and objects of study, including the constitutive roles that racism, settler colonialism, and white supremacy have played in the formation of the United States and how it continues to shape its dominant politics and culture, even and especially now. Our field notes also that regressive forms of gender and sexuality crucially shape the discourses and practices of white supremacy, from its foundations, its legitimization, its effects, and as well its proposed “solutions” – from fears of endangered masculinity (as we learned in the aftermath of Charlottesville, many white supremacists were radicalized by so-called men’s rights activism), “anchor babies,” and “homosexual perverts,” to increasingly punitive restrictions to abortion and other healthcare access and public spaces (including bathrooms), and civilizational thinking about “Islamic terror,” to authorize white supremacy. Gender and Women’s Studies, as well as our colleagues in Ethnic Studies and in departments across campus, offers both research and teaching that considers the ongoing ramifications of the founding of the United States through indigenous genocide and African slavery, that troubles philosophical, aesthetic, social, economic and political claims about national and global movements, cultures, and events, and also that illuminates the ideologies and practices of a state that pursues and sanctions violence, whether through ongoing war and occupation; police, prisons, and policies such as redlining and gerrymandering; or the tacit encouragement of vigilantism (including Republican efforts to legalize “unintentional” hit-and-runs of protesters, even after the neo-Nazi murder of Heather Heyer at Charlottesville).

The scholarship we do in Gender and Women’s Studies also reminds us of the histories and activities of protest and collective action against abuses of power and horrific violence, manifested as white supremacist rallies, Presidential executive orders, and otherwise. We must ask ourselves, over and again, “How can feminist theorists, organizers, and activists today work together to create fair and just discourses and practices that will make us more free, and just what do we mean by ‘free’?”

As the academic year approaches, and we approach this question with the fierce urgency of the moment, I want to affirm: We will love and protect each other. We are ready to fight.