Letter from the Director – Fall 2020

Dear friends of the Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies:

Although all of us continue to grapple with the twin pandemics of covid-19 and systemic racism, our faculty have somehow managed to get the fall term up and running.  We have worried about our parents, our kids, and our friends near and far, and had a summer without the usual celebrations, gatherings, and travel that provide a break.  Instead we prepped for online classes, marched for Black Lives Matter and signed petitions against systemic racism, started the school year with Scholar Strike Canada, fought for the release of Cihan Erdal, the Carleton grad student who is being held by the Turkish government, and mourned the death of yet another Indigenous woman, Joyce Echaquan.  Although the pandemic can mean a pause in business as usual, for many it has meant more work and certainly more stress and anxiety.  But Arundhati Roy’s much circulated notion of the pandemic as “portal,” suggests that this time is also an opportunity to think about what really matters to us and to tap into the radical imagination and dreams for a better world, even as we watch racialized capitalism and climate change create a crumbling and broken society whose effects are often most felt by those who are most precarious.  It is hard to find steady ground amidst the constant change, although in the words of Octavia Butler, which are now being circulated by younger black queer feminists such as Toshi Reagon, adrienne marie brown, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs:  “All that you touch you change.  All that you change changes you.  The only lasting truth is Change.”

Because we must craft practices of change if we are to survive this pandemic and its social devastations, the work of the Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies has never been more urgent.  Students took our summer school courses in record numbers, and our offerings included for the first time courses in Sexuality Studies and Disability Studies, as well as our online Traversing Feminisms course, which provides basic grounding in feminist theory and methods for students across the campus.  Faculty spent huge amounts of time doing course preparation while also tending to their families, experiencing very directly the gender divisions of labour that many of us study.  We have also welcomed to our MA program seven new students, who have been willing to embark on an experiment in online learning.

Despite the pandemic, we have continued to work on our plans for curriculum change, and we are especially excited to announce that we have submitted a proposal for a Minor in Critical Race Studies that has gathered support from across the campus.  Manjeet Birk, who taught in this area last year, will join us as a full-time faculty member in July 2021 to help develop the new Minor. We have also streamlined our curriculum, eliminating some core courses and adding others in an effort to make sure that students in all of our Majors and Minors work intersectionally by taking courses in each of our areas:  WGST, SXST, DBST, and the new CRST (Critical Race Studies).  And we are discussing a new name that will reflect our intersectional vision –  with the current frontrunner being Feminist Institute of Social Transformation – or FIST!

After the cancellations last March of our Flo Bird lecture with Jennifer Nash and the student conference, we have been trying to figure out what makes sense in the way of public events during the era of Zoom.  We have decided on a series of events called “Feminist Futures in a Time of Pandemic” on Thursdays from 1-2 pm, which will include a workshop by social justice organizer, Kimalee Phillips, a book launch for our colleague Katie Bausch, and a rescheduled workshop with Jennifer Nash on Black Feminisms Reimagined.  On October 1, we kicked off the series with an informal discussion of the Scholar Strike teach-ins, and we will continue to use some Thursdays for more informal discussions that provide space for public feelings both good and bad.

This is also a time of transformation and future vision at Carleton with the roll out of the Strategic Integrated Plan, the Indigenous Strategy Kinàmàgawin, the Coordinated Accessibility Strategy, and the EDI Action Plan.  The Institute has important contributions to make to each of these plans.  As feminist, queer, and racialized scholars, we are used to working with limited resources and in hostile conditions.  We don’t know what the future will hold, but we can be sure that change is in store and that we must do what we can to shape it. In the words of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “Freedom is not a secret.  It is a practice.”  I hope we can find ways to practice freedom together in these perilous times.

Ann Cvetkovich (she/hers)

Director, Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies

Carleton University

Carleton University is located on unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples.