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National Women's Studies Association

The National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) is an organization founded in 1977, made up of scholars and practitioners in the field of women's studies.[2]

National Women's Studies Association
Formation1977 (1977)
PurposeAcademic support
HeadquartersBaltimore, Maryland
  • United States United States
Region served
North America
Key people
  • Premilla Nadasen, President
  • Diane Harriford, VP
  • Patti Duncan, Secretary
  • Karma Chávez, Treasurer

Their mission is to further the development of women's studies throughout the world through open dialogue and communication.[3] Since its inception, NWSA has been the subject of controversy based on its failure to include marginalized women in the conversation.[4][5][6] They offer two types of memberships including access to constituency groups, and various awards.[7][8]


In 1973, women's studies pioneer Catharine R. Stimpson called for the founding of a national women's studies organization[9]. Discussions took place over the next three years in women’s studies spaces. In 1976, Sybil Weir from San Jose State University called an official meeting for people interested in creating plans for a national organization.[3]

Following a grant from the Ford Foundation, the first NWSA conference was held in January 1977 at the University of San Francisco, co-sponsored by San Jose State University and the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women[10]. Over 500 people attended the three-day convention. According to Barbara W. Gerber, who served on NWSA's Coordinating Council, NWSA aimed to be inclusive of all women, with a subset of regional groups, and agreed upon a leadership group known as the Coordinating Council.[3]


NWSA was formed to further the social, political, and professional development of women's studies throughout the world. The organization centers open dialogue and communication among women for positive social change and was founded upon the women's liberation movement. It promotes freedom from sexism, racism, homophobia, antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and from all suppressive ideologies and institutions. Its goals are to equip women to enter society and transform the world to one without systemic oppression.[11]


Racism and classismEdit

Women of color protested racism within the organization during its early years. During NWSA's 1981 conference in Storrs, Connecticut, poet Audre Lorde gave the keynote address admonishing conference-goers that if "women in the academy truly want a dialogue about racism, it will require recognizing the needs and living contexts of other women."[4]

The 1981 conference was further criticized by Chela Sandoval for its classism, as travel fare and conference fees were difficult to afford. This coupled with the theme of racism caused attendance rates to suffer. The lack of inclusivity for women of color led to the Third World Women's Consciousness Raising group to discuss issues of racism and classism in NWSA.[12]

During the closing of the 1981 conference Barbara Smith, a member of the Combahee River Collective (CRC), asserted that for all the white women within NWSA tired of hearing about racism, there were just as many women of color who were sick of experiencing it. She criticizes NWSA for the disconnect between their goals and actions by stating their definition of feminism fails at being inclusive of all women.[5] Smith's work within the CRC argues not to separate race from class or sexual oppression because they are experienced simultaneously.[13]

Former NWSA president Beverly Guy-Sheftall noted, "I wanted NWSA to be an inclusive, multiracial, multicultural organization where women of color and their feminisms would not be marginalized."[6] Led by feminists like Guy-Sheftall, NWSA has worked to center intersectionality in its institutional practices and leadership structure with the support of a Ford Foundation grant.[14]

Lesbian separatismEdit

During the 1977 conference, lesbians spoke about their invisibility in NWSA. Lesbians during this time were combating internal and external homophobia along with their racist and classist issues. This birthed the Lesbian Women's Caucus which sought to address issues of homophobia from within the organization and the media.[15]


In 2015, the NWSA membership voted to "back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel."[16][17] In response to critiques of antisemitism following their support of member Jasbir K. Puar, NWSA responded by stating the organization holds firm in their conviction.[18]


NWSA offers two types of memberships which vary in price based on employment, income, and student status.


Individuals members can find colleagues in the member directory, present at the annual conference, receive reduced registration rates, apply for scholarships and conference grants, apply for NWSA awards and prizes, and participate in the discussion forums[19]


Institutions can list their program, department, or nonprofit organization in the public member directory, receive three complimentary student memberships annually, post employment listings related to women's studies, and participate in the discussion forum.[19]

Constituency groupsEdit

NWSA membership offers the ability to join several constituency groups, including:[20]


NWSA publishes Feminist Formations, a journal that cultivates feminist conversations from around the world regarding research, theory, activism, teaching, and learning. The journal changed its name from NWSA Journal in 2010 to be inclusive of both NWSA conference papers and works from academic sources and individuals globally.[21]


Every year during the months of April-June, NWSA presents awards and prizes for books, students, and women's centers:[22]


  1. ^ "About". National Women's Studies Association. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  2. ^ The Evolution of American Women's Studies: Reflections on Triumphs, Controversies, and Change (2008 ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2012-07-24. ISBN 9781137270306.
  3. ^ a b c Gerber, Barbara W. (2002). "NWSA Organizational Development: A View from Within, at 25 Years". NWSA Journal. 14 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1353/nwsa.2002.0008. ISSN 1527-1889.
  4. ^ a b Lorde, Audre (1981). ""The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism," The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Barbara (1980). "Racism and Women's Studies". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 5 (1): 48–49. doi:10.2307/3346304. ISSN 0160-9009. JSTOR 3346304.
  6. ^ a b Ofori-Atta, Akoto. "Author Beverly Guy-Sheftall Talks About Black Feminism". The Root. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  7. ^ "Constituency Groups". Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  8. ^ "Awards".
  9. ^ Stimpson, Catharine R. (1973). "The New Feminism and Women's Studies". Change. 5 (7): 43–48. ISSN 0009-1383. JSTOR 40161836.
  10. ^ Frech, Patricia A.; Davis, Barbara Hillyer (1980). "The NWSA Constituency: Evaluation of 1979 Conference Participation". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 5 (1): 68. doi:10.2307/3346309. JSTOR 3346309.
  11. ^ National Women's Studies Associatio (2002). "Preamble to the Constitution of the National Women's Studies Association". NWSA Journal. 14 (1): xix–xx. doi:10.1353/nwsa.2002.0015. ISSN 1527-1889.
  12. ^ Sandoval, Chela (1990). Feminism and Racism: A Report on the 1981 National Women's Studies Association Conference. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books. pp. 55–71. ISBN 978-1879960107.
  13. ^ Collective, The Combahee River (2014). "A Black Feminist Statement". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 42 (3): 271–280. doi:10.1353/wsq.2014.0052. ISSN 1934-1520.
  14. ^ Kimmich, Allison; Lin, Yi Chun Tricia (Fall 2012). "Older and Wiser: The Transformation of NWSA" (PDF). Ms. Magazine.
  15. ^ Farley, Tucker (2002). "Speaking, Silence, and Shifting Listening Space: The NWSA Lesbian Caucus in the Early Years". NWSA Journal. 14 (1): 29–50. CiteSeerX doi:10.1353/nwsa.2002.0007. ISSN 1527-1889.
  16. ^ Redden, Elizabeth. "Another Association Backs Israel Boycott". News. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  17. ^ Freedman, Janet L. "For the Women's Studies Association, the BDS Vote Was Over Before It Began". The Sisterhood. Forward. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  18. ^ "EC Letter in Support of Jasbir K. Puar". Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  19. ^ a b "Membership". Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Constituency Groups". NWSA. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  21. ^ Rebecca Ropers-Huilman; Adela C. Licona (2010). "Welcome to Feminist Formations". Feminist Formations. 22 (1). doi:10.1353/nwsa.0.0123. ISSN 2151-7371.
  22. ^ "Awards". NWSA. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  23. ^ "Book Prizes". NWSA. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  24. ^ "Student Prizes". NWSA. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  25. ^ "Women's Centers Awards". NWSA. Retrieved 3 December 2018.

External linksEdit