Illinois State University Women and Gender Symposium Celebrates 25 Years | local education


NORMAL — An Illinois State University event has reached its 25th year, allowing students to go beyond writing articles about their research to presenting and finding cross-disciplinary connections to their topics.

The Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Student Research Symposium includes student panels and presentations as well as keynote speakers. It gives students a unique opportunity to interact across disciplines and learn by showcasing their work, said Alison Bailey, Director of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) at UIS.

“It’s really helpful and empowering for (students) to not only be able to write about these ideas, but also to talk about them in a clear and concise way,” she said.

This year’s keynote speakers will cover the topic “Queering Gender,” typically focused on the intersection of transgender and non-conforming people, transphobia, and politics.

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“Transphobia has become a very powerful cause in politics,” Bailey said.

Keynote speakers include Arlene Stein, who kicked off the symposium on Friday with a talk comparing her work on culture wars and the repression and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities. Stein is director of the Women’s Research Institute at Rutgers University.

Organizers had hoped to get Stein to speak at the event for several years now, Bailey said. Stein linked the current situation to research she did 20 years ago.

“It’s the same thing in a different bottle,” Bailey said.

Registration and a full list of events are available online at

The sessions are all on Zoom, except for the awards ceremony that concludes the symposium at noon on April 15. Upcoming keynotes are:

  • Trans scholar and athlete Veronica Ivy talks about trans participation in sport at 7 p.m. Monday
  • Karma R. Chávez, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, talks about queer migration and immigration at 7 p.m. Thursday
  • Author and illustrator Maia Kobabe, who wrote “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” talks about gender representation in graphic novels at 7 p.m. April 14

In addition to keynote speakers, there are also panels of students to present their research and panels of professors and professionals working in the field.

There is also an exhibit at the ISU Milner Library covering the event’s 25-year history. The exhibition is open until May 7.

The WGSS symposium began in 1996, led by history teacher and part-time director of women’s studies Sandra Harmon and graduate students Jenny Howell and Tesa Brager, according to the university. Bailey has been involved since the start of the event.

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The symposium missed a year in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The event has since grown and brought together many feminist and gender scholars, as well as activists and artists involved in similar work. Not every year has such a timely theme, Bailey said.

“Some issues are timeless, like when we brought in Dolores Huerta,” Bailey said.

The 2007 event featured Huerta, who coined the “Sí se puede” slogan of the farmworker movement and co-founded the National Association of Farmworkers, which later became United Farm Workers.

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The event is interdisciplinary in nature, Bailey said. Women’s, gender and sexuality studies have almost always been, as departments often attract professors from fields like English literature, philosophy, history and sociology.

The interdisciplinary approach of the event is also helpful for the student, she said.

“They’ll have a cross talk about the ideas they’re passionate about,” Bailey said.

Contact Connor Wood at (309) 820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood


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