The following post was written by recent Women’s Centers Committee co-chairs, Gina Helfrich and Adale Sholock, and shared via WRAC-L on November 19, 2015. It is reposted here with their permission.
To the Governing Council of the National Women’s Studies Association,
We, Gina Helfrich and Adale Sholock, co-chairs of the NWSA Women’s Centers Committee, hereby resign from our position, effective immediately. We do so with heavy hearts and after years of good faith engagement and efforts to help the NWSA Governing Council leadership hear the concerns and needs of the Women’s Centers Community.
With the recent GC vote to remove all formal representation of Women’s Centers professionals from the NWSA Governing Council, we believe that NWSA leadership has clearly exhibited a failure to fully grapple with the issues of classism inherent in the organization. The loss of the GC seat is a symbolic culmination of years of marginalization of Women’s Centers professionals by the executive and board leadership of NWSA.
While NWSA brands itself as home for all practitioners of feminism and women’s studies scholars and activists, years of neglect of the Women’s Centers professional community’s needs and ongoing marginalization of Women’s Centers professionals within the organization show that NWSA is in truth primarily devoted to the professional development of women’s and gender studies faculty and graduate students, having little time for—or interest in—sustaining and supporting on-the-ground practitioners like Women’s Centers professionals.
NWSA has failed to center the work of Women’s Centers professionals, the front line practitioners of feminism in the academy and so often those who carry the burden of translating women’s and gender theory into action for and alongside students. Instead of providing a welcoming and sustaining home for Women’s Centers professionals, NWSA has repeatedly marginalized Women’s Centers professionals, their research, their work, and their needs.
Women’s Centers professionals were not consulted in the Strategic Planning process undertaken by NWSA in 2015. The fact that at the June GC meeting we were not notified that the Strategic Plan included removal of Women’s Centers seats on the Governing Council until less than 30 minutes prior to the conclusion of the meeting was both instructive and symptomatic. The both of us experienced an unwelcoming climate in Governing Council meetings, where we felt strongly that our voices were typically perceived as taking up too much space with complaints. No Women’s Centers professionals have been asked by the President to participate in the main conference planning committee for many years. Any time concerns have been raised about these ongoing issues, NWSA leadership has exhorted Women’s Centers professionals to “submit more proposals” to the main conference. NWSA leadership holds up the Pre-Conference as the definitive exhibit of support given to Women’s Centers professionals by NWSA as an organization despite constant annual reminders that the Women’s Centers Pre-Conference does not pay for itself and the Women’s Centers community needs to get more Women’s Center staff to pay the cost of NWSA membership, the Pre-Conference registration fee, and typically the main conference registration fee, as well.
The Women’s Centers professional community currently faces a host of pressing issues, such as the nationwide crisis of sexual assault on college campuses, the high turnover of Women’s Center professionals leading to a constant leadership vacuum, and the targeting of administrators and staff on college campuses who lack the protections of tenure or the social capital of faculty positions. Despite these many opportunities for NWSA to display leadership and to center these crucial feminist concerns in the organization, NWSA frequently and consistently fails to center Women’s Center professionals in its rhetoric, in the narrative it tells of the organization, in its internal initiatives, and in its planning and goal-setting processes. The irony of this failure in the midst of organizing an NWSA conference themed around “Precarity” is not lost on us.
Three of the past four NWSA Women’s Centers Committee co-chairs have left the profession while holding their position, including the both of us. One of the two WCC Pre-Conference co-chairs for 2015 also left the profession, and the other was fired from her job for taking a stand to support her students who were protesting the whitewashing of a campus mural. The Women’s Centers professional community has many urgent needs to be addressed, and a continued uphill battle for recognition and legitimacy in the eyes of NWSA leadership only adds to their significant burdens.
We hope that our resignation will serve as a wake-up call to this organization and prompt a re-examination of what it means to truly live out feminist principles within a feminist organization.
Gina Helfrich, Ph.D. and Adale Sholock, Ph.D.