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Source: Emily Rutter, associate professor of English and co-director of the African American Studies program
Irma McClaurin, anthropologist and Black feminist researcher, has long felt the contributions of Black women to the field of anthropology are undervalued.
Her fellow anthropology scholars “still don’t use our books, our words and experiences as Black women and women of color,” she said in a 2013 video performance of “Poem for My Black Feminist Sisters.”
McClaurin’s work in recognizing Black women for their advocacy in anti-racism is what Emily Rutter and Keisha Warren-Gordon, co-directors of Ball State’s African American Studies program, want to showcase in the first Midwest Regional African American Studies Biennial Conference.
Warren-Gordon, also an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology, first pictured a large gathering of civil rights leaders in the Midwest when she began planning the first biennial conference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference will be held virtually with speakers and discussions centered on the topic “Antiracism: Centering the Voices of Black Women.”
The conference has been two years in the making and involved faculty collaboration between Ball State’s African American Studies program, Teachers College and English department.
The Zoom event March 12-13 will host different speakers and presentations from around the Midwest and the world. Warren-Gordon said she hopes to uplift marginalized voices and create a space for people to learn.
“The purpose of the conference was to create a regional space for people who have been doing work around African American studies and the African diaspora work to center Black voices,” Warren-Gordon said.
Rutter, also an associate professor of English, said she wants the conference to build connections between Ball State students and regional leaders of African American studies as potential mentors and resources for students.
“We're trying to build a community here — a community of scholars, and students and people outside of the university who are more interested in Black women’s history,” she said.
While the conference wasn’t planned for a virtual platform when conversations first began, Rutter said, a Zoom conference is more affordable. Registration links to the conference are being shared online to promote attendance at the free event.
Warren-Gordon said some speakers at the conference will have “untraditional presentations,” including interactive discussions, creative showcases and performances.
Some scheduled topics of discussion include Black women and media representation, Black feminist pedagogy and centering African American women in historical narratives.
“Last summer, anti-racist work ... seemed to me that it was missing the role of Black women that were centered in those conversations,” Warren-Gordon said. “On the mainstream level, Black women were not given as much focus as they deserve.”
The theme of this year’s conference, “Centering the Voices of Black Women,” hopes to change that.
“The idea is let's put women in the center in this anti-racism talk,” Warren-Gordon said. “The conversation looks different for Black women — those experiences are different compared to Black men — and Dr. McClaurin is talking about women getting less recognition for work, especially Black women not getting recognition for their work.”
Warren-Gordon said this conference wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of the Office of Inclusive Excellence and the faculty in the Teachers College and English department.
“It wouldn’t be happening without their work for creating this program, and having worked tirelessly, and communicated with people internationally and creating time and space for figuring out the schedule for the conference,” Warren-Gordon said.
The first session of the Midwest Regional African American Studies Biennial Conference will begin at 8 a.m. March 12 with the goal of creating a safe space to hear diverse stories and build a community of scholars.