A Word from Outgoing IRWG Director, Sarah Fenstermaker

headshot of Sarah Fenstermaker
Sarah Fenstermaker
headshot of Sarah Fenstermaker
Sarah Fenstermaker

Dear Friends of IRWG:

I am eager to share with you some upcoming events for the 2017-18 year. I hope you will attend the events and visit Lane Hall to see what we are up to at IRWG.

Our popular series, Gender: New Works, New Questions, which spotlights recent publications by U-M faculty members, will continue in its seventh year. In November, we will feature PearlStitch (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016), a poetry collection by Petra Kuppers (English, Women’s Studies), and in winter, Intimate Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2017) co-edited by Allison Alexy (Asian Languages and Cultures, Women’s Studies).

Our active faculty-led programs will offer a variety of events that reflect and enhance the gender scholarship taking place on our campus and around the country. The long-running Lesbian-Gay-Queer-Research Initiative (LGQRI) will launch the year with “Punks” @ 20: Revisiting Cathy Cohen’s Queer Coalitional Vision, a half-day symposium on September 18th.

Our Feminist Science Studies program, led by Professor Sari van Anders and a devoted steering committee, will host a half-day symposium on Feminism & the Biological Sciences on September 25th. Professor Victor Mendoza’s Colonialism, Race and Sexualities Initiative will invite several scholars to campus who are engaged with critical race studies at the intersections of trans-of-color scholarship, queer studies, and postcolonial studies.

And finally, I am delighted to announce the formation of a new IRWG program, Black Feminist Health Science Studies, directed by Women’s Studies Professors Ava Purkiss and Diana Louis. As the year progresses we are eager to see what conversations and collaborations emerge from these innovative scholars.

There are some events – one recurring and one brand new – that extend IRWG’s reach well beyond the campus and clearly convey IRWG’s interest in gender scholarship around the world.

photograph of group of seminar partipantsThe first is the IRWG Feminist Research Seminars.

Established in 2014, IRWG has hosted more than 80 feminist scholars from 52 differentcolleges and universities, including U-M. Topics have included: feminist postcolonial science and technology studies, feminist documentary filmmaking, queer feminist engagement with the Talmud, Black feminist theory, radical transnational feminism, and feminist food and cultural studies.

In 2017-18, IRWG will welcome participants in three seminars: the first on Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” the next on risk and resistance to women’s political participation around the world, and the third on contributions to American classical music by black composers. It has brought me great pleasure to see scholars from around the world come together to move creative interdisciplinarity forward.

Since I arrived at IRWG I have thought that a gathering of American gender research institute directors would benefit individual institutes and their campuses, as well as enhance the general state of gender and sexuality research. Directors of gender research institutes within institutions of higher education face a variety of common challenges, and meeting in person would provide a space for collaborative problem solving and relationship-building.

Based on communication with many institute directors, I was pleased to discover enthusiastic interest. On April 16, 2018, IRWG and the U-M Office of Research will host the first meeting of what I hope will become an active and enlivening consortium.

Having spent the last five years as IRWG’s director, I will be returning to California to define another chapter in my life. I imagine my new grandson will help immensely in that project. As I reflect on my time at IRWG I am moved to recall the wonderful work the IRWG staff and I have accomplished together in a short time.

Here are just a few highlights:

  • The creation of the position of Program Director for Faculty Research Development, ably held by Dr. Jocelyn Stitt.

  • The appointment of two researchers to join the small (but powerful) IRWG research faculty: Quyen Ngo and Philip T. Veliz.

  • Since 2013, IRWG researchers were awarded over $2.6 million in extramural funding. This accounts for grants awarded from the National Institutes of Health - National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ford Foundation, Montefiore Medical Center, NIH - National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • The establishment of IRWG’s Senior Visiting Scholar Program, which brought three accomplished senior faculty from academic institutions outside the University of Michigan to IRWG for up to a year to engage in research, mentoring, and public events.

    • Valerie Jenness (2015-16)

    • NiCole Buchanan (2016-17)

    • Greta Kroeker (2017-18)

  • Reconstitution of the SHARP program, housed at IRWG under the direction of Michelle Segar, and the establishment of its Joan Schafer Research Faculty Award in Sport, Fitness and Disability.

  • A rocking set of 20th anniversary celebration events, including Lane Hall’s first-ever juried art show. Titled, Re-Imaging Gender, the exhibition featured the work of 15 MFA graduate student artists from around the U.S. Mishka Colombo (Cranbrook Academy of Art) won First Prize for his painting, “Hide and Seek,” and Julie Rae Powers (Ohio State) won Second Prize for her digital photograph, “Homage.” Both pieces are on permanent display in Lane Hall.

  • Nearly 150 IRWG-sponsored events, including appearances by Lilly Ledbetter, Anna Deveare Smith, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Piper Kerman.

  • A thriving graduate Community of Scholars Program, serving 60 graduate participants in the last five years.

I have never worked with staff who are so in tune with the interests of the campus, engaged with our feminist faculty in so many far-flung units, and so devoted to collective goals. They made my job as Director exciting and fulfilling.

My sadness at leaving my colleagues and life in Ann Arbor is tempered by my excitement at the appointment of Anna Kirkland as the next IRWG Director. I will always be grateful for her contributions as Associate Director and her collaboration with me to make so many things of value happen at IRWG. I know she will do an extraordinary job.

photo of three IRWG Directors: Sarah Fenstermaker, Carol Boyd, and Abiga

Coming to Ann Arbor, to IRWG and to the Department of Women’s Studies was a great adventure for me, and one which bestowed many gifts I could never have anticipated. I was welcomed, supported, and listened to by smart, capable, invigorating, and dedicated feminists, faculty, staff and students.

The work I accomplished at IRWG and the teaching I did in Women’s Studies was the most satisfying of my career, and every day I was glad that I could help IRWG make important things possible for our U-M community of gender scholars.

My best wishes always,

Sarah Fenstermaker
Director, Institute for Research on Women and Gender
Professor, Women’s Studies and Sociology, University of Michigan (2012-2017)
Research Professor Emerita, UC Santa Barbara

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