Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies Kesho Scott and Irma McClaurin ’73 were recently in China for a pair of historic conferences focusing on global feminism. McClaurin is associate vice president for system academic administration and executive director of the first Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center at the University of Minnesota.
The first International Conference on Gender Studies, held June 24–29 in Shanghai, examined issues of gender/feminist studies in China, including the challenges and strengths of globalizing gender and its applications to the diversity and historical context of China. The Institute for Gender Studies, a joint program of Fudan University in Shanghai and the University of Michigan, sponsored the conference with more than 400 Chinese teachers and scholars, international guests, and Chinese “sheroes” (women heroes) participating.
“One of the central organizers of the Shanghai conference believed that any feminist discourse from America would not be complete without the voices and contributions of women of color,” McClaurin says. When she began to assemble a panel of women of color feminists last year, she contacted Scott; the pair had formed a professional and personal friendship more than a dozen years ago when McClaurin was teaching race and ethnicity at Grinnell.
“I simply made some calls, and our ‘feminist posse’ was assembled from throughout the United States, representing African American, Asian/Asian American, Latina, and Native voices, experiences, and multi-forms of activism,” McClaurin explains.
“This is a pretty historic moment for China — to talk about women’s issues in a post-socialist society and the growth of Chinese indigenous feminism,” Scott says. Before leaving for China, she said she was eager to share her internationally respected and culturally sensitive diversity training with Chinese scholars and activists, and to examine its applications for bridge building for transnational feminism.
Scott also said that each roundtable member offered her “lessons learned” to the Chinese and international participants; the presentation was named “Defying the Odds: Lessons from Women of Color in American Women’s Studies,” and offered practical suggestions for curriculum development and activism for students. Other members of the delegation included Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Spelman College; Ruth Zambrana, University of Maryland-College Park; and Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, Naropa University.
“I am excited about this opportunity to participate as a member of the Grinnell faculty, and to work with McClaurin again,” Scott says. “One of my strengths is methodology and teaching, and the intellectual engagement in and out of the classroom. I call it ‘guerrilla teaching,’ a concept McClaurin Solutions has helped me to develop and refine. It comes from designing my classroom as a laboratory for students to learn how to apply feminist and activist praxis through courses such as Global Feminism, Race and Ethnicity, and Theory and Methods in American Studies. Grinnell students have enjoyed applying these critical and analytical skills to how they think, write, engage, and present.”
The delegation also presented at the 2009 Shanghai “Social Gender and Development of Female Talent” International Female Forum, sponsored by Shanghai Second Polytechnic University. Both McClaurin and Scott believe this event could be the beginning of a promising and significant relationship between American women of color and Chinese women. McClaurin, who formerly served as a member of the anthropology faculty at Grinnell, and as a Ford Foundation program officer, says, “We have much to offer in how we have defied being pushed to the margins in higher education, and think that ethnic Chinese women scholars can learn from our experiences, and the strategies we have used to make our presence felt in colleges and universities across the country and the world.”