University Hosts Annual Gender and Women’s Study Conference

Isabella Balian, Staff Writer

This week, Villanova hosted its annual research conference under the Gender and Women’s Studies department. This was the University’s 32nd Gender and Women’s Studies Research Conference, which aimed to highlight and celebrate research examining gender and sexuality produced by students from across the University over the previous year. Villanova undergraduate students presented their research and essays over a series of panels along with a Keynote speaker, Erin Murphy. Students’ papers discuss ideas of gender, sexuality or feminist theories. 

The conference was a day-long affair full of intellectual discussion, learning and meaningful community bonding. The event began in the morning with coffee and opening remarks. After the opening remarks, the panelists began, which consisted of students sharing and presenting their work. The panels were separated into categories based on similar themes. Some of the topics included deconstructing representation, resistance and oppression, intersectionality, and action and bodies inside out. Each panelist event was held in different rooms in the Connelly Center, which were open to all University students and staff. 

Senior Maeve Schumacher reflected on her experience at the conference. 

“I went to the conference to support my friend Irene Koch’s work on the intersection of lesbianism and feminism in the mid to late 1900s,” Schumacher said. “It felt great to support Irene in a professional setting after casually hearing so much about her work and thesis this year. The round table setup of each panel at the conference made me feel welcomed and included in the conversations each student raised from their work and research—so this conference felt more like an open conversation than a lecture, which I enjoyed extensively. It made me think more and acknowledge identities and people I may not have considered before, ultimately broadening my worldview in the span of a quick afternoon.”

Shaniya Peart, a Math major with minors in Russian Area Studies and Economics, reflected on her experience as a panelist. 

“I enjoyed listening to the different discussions at the GWS conference,” Peart said. “I particularly enjoyed how each session aimed to address different issues within GWS, giving a voice to everyone. My submission was written as a final for Professor Ma’s Philosophy of Women course and aims to explore the trauma Black women experience as a result of the controlling images placed on them by society, specifically images that demonize their sexuality. I think that the GWS conference opens the door for important conversations about gender and sexuality that are normally avoided in everyday life to be had.” 

After the first three sessions of panelists, Murphy gave her address in the Villanova Room. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Boston University. Murphy’s research and teaching focus on the intersection of literature and politics, with primary areas of focus in 17-century English literature. Specifically, her address at the conference was “Amazons and Zombies: Margaret Cavendish’s Soldiers, Gender, and the Paradoxes of War.” Murphy’s talk analyzed the plays and proto-science fiction writing of Margaret Cavendish to consider how Cavendish drew on the new militarism of her moment, challenging the hierarchies of gender.

Murphy believes that biological gender is still often used to mark the boundaries of war, and war is used to mark the boundaries of gender. She said that even some feminist histories depict women as automatically outside or in opposition to the war. 

The Gender and Women’s Studies department is an active learning department and community promoting gender equality and justice. In addition to the annual research conference, the Gender and Women’s Studies department has many other on and off-campus opportunities for students to get involved in. Coming up, the department is introducing the Feminist Book Club, the Greater Philadelphia Women’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Consortium Feminist Camp, along with scholarship opportunities through the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership.