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Friday October 20, 2000

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First-ever women's studies conference celebrates 25th anniversary

By Shana Heiser

Arizona Daily Wildcats

International participants, speakers will evaluate past, look to future

The first women's studies conference at the UA begins today in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the women's studies department.

"The Future of Women's Studies" conference also marks the 20th anniversary of the Southwest Institute for Research on Women and the 15th anniversary of the Women's Studies Advisory Council.

National and local speakers will convene on the University of Arizona campus for the two-day event, packed full with three sessions and 25 different workshops, such as "The Science Question in Women's Studies," "Women's Studies and Activism: Two Related Approaches" and "Feminisms, Religion and Women of Color."

"It's a special event to evaluate the past and look to the future," said Elizabeth Kennedy, head of women's studies. "The important thing to think about is how women's studies has grown dramatically from not even having an office 25 years ago, now to being a full department with a graduate program."

The conference comes at a time when changes are occurring politically and socially at UA and internationally, and women's studies needs to respond to the changing environment, Kennedy said.

"Women's studies is at a crucial time in terms of institutionalization," said Jessica Turk, a women's studies graduate student. "People tend to think of women's studies as progressive and liberal. When it's institutionalized in academia, it becomes a conservative phenomena."

The two-day conference aims to answer three questions for the 21st century, Kennedy said. The questions are: "What is women's studies?" "What is the best model for locating women's studies?" "What is the place of activism in women's studies?"

"A lot of people today say why do you still need women's studies, haven't women achieved equality?" Kennedy asked. "We need to examine how women and men relate in the world."

The conference will also bring together the country's top scholars to explore the relationship of women's studies with community groups, intersections between gender, race, class, ethnicity and border issues, said Caryl Flinn, committee member and associate professor.

"It's a fabulous way for us to explore new ideas," she said. "It will draw attention to the program and university, to women's studies, we'll be making a publication of the proceedings."

A committee with more than a dozen UA faculty, staff and students have been meeting since early last summer to plan the international conference.

Six of these people were UA students, including Turk who worked as a summer research assistant contacting speakers and coordinating workshops.

The 10 keynote speakers include authors, professors, activists and psychologists from all over North America. Some speakers include Ruth Hubbard, professor emeritus at Harvard University; Norma Alarc—n, professor of ethnic studies at the University of California at Berkeley; and Lorenia Parada-Ampudia, professor at the Universidad Nacional Aut—noma de Mˇxico.

About $75,000 was raised through the Spencer Foundation, the Arizona Humanities Council, the vice president for research at UA, the women's studies advisory council, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a variety of departments on campus, Kennedy said.

Only 240 people were allowed to register for the conference, and Kennedy said she has had to turn away about 40 people.

The 240 participants are from as far away as Kenya, Finland and Romania, with a "majority of the states" represented, she said.

"This is an international conference, it will allow conversation to set the stage for what we can expect from women's studies in the future," Turk said.