Black Feminist Summer Institute Takes On What It Means To Be Ordinary

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The Department of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies will hold the second annual Black Feminist Theory Summer Institute from July 31 to August 4, 2023.

This year's theme, “On the Ordinary,” highlights a desire to think about how Blackness is tethered to the spectacular, and GSF chair Jennifer C. Nash wants to bring together a group of scholars who are thinking about the ordinary and the quotidian in myriad ways. 

“I’m excited to have the institute be a place where people who have come as students come back as scholars to present research,” said Nash.

Sarah Jane Cervenak, professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and African American and African Diaspora Studies at UNC Greensboro, recounted her time at the institute as “an opportunity to see how scholars use Black feminist theory to engage in a range of topics that are new and exciting.”

Like last year’s institute, attendees will work closely with eight prominent scholars and spend time brainstorming keywords or major questions throughout the week.

“In last year’s theme on ‘The Question of Life,’ I remember a student said, ‘I’m really curious about what it would mean to be part of a movement for life and living that’s not a pro-life movement.’… So that became one of the questions we carried with us throughout the week,” said Nash.

According to Nash, the scholars will generate big questions with the question of the ordinary and will spend time thinking about what the papers mean to them, as well as how it helps their work. Not does that work support graduate students, but it’s beneficial for the institute faculty.

“It was nice to be in a space with people who are in the field,” said Emily A. Owens, assistant professor of History at Brown University. “It was interesting to see and talk as a group about the concerns we had growing up versus the graduate students and the debates they are thinking regarding.”

Other institute faculty for 2023 include Marquis Bey (Northwestern), Erica Edwards (Yale), Jovonna Jones (Boston College), Tiffany Lethabo King (University of Virginia), Sherie Randolph (Georgia Tech), Mercy Romero (Sonoma State), Calvin Warren (Emory) and Bianca Williams (CUNY Graduate Center).

Nash has even opened arms for international scholars to attend. “Black feminist theory is not just a U.S. centered interest,” she said. “I want to continue to deepen our capacity to bring students from around the world and build a transnational component to the summer institute.”

Ultimately, the institute aims to help prepare students for a graduate degree, and Nash hopes the GSF and African & African American Studies departments will work together to create a graduate certificate for Black feminists.