Conference for Black Women to Be Held at MIT
Conference for Black Women to Be Held at MIT
By Sarah Y. Keightley
A national conference focusing on issues concerning black women in
academia -- the first of its kind -- will be held at MIT this
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
"Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name 1894-1994" will
include keynote speakers in Kresge Auditorium and presentations
around campus. Among the headline attractions is a keynote address
by Lani Guinier.
"This is an extraordinary event for MIT," said Robin W. Kilson,
professor of history and women's studies and one of the meeting's
organizers. It will go "a long way to changing the image of MIT for
minority faculty across the nation," she added.
Organizers are expecting about 2,000 people to attend, according to
Kilson. "People are enormously excited," she said. She noted that it
is quite an event to get people to come to Boston in the middle of
People are coming from all over the country, from community colleges
to Ivy League schools, Kilson said. Scholars will also be coming
from South Africa and the Netherlands. Though the conference is
targeted at black women faculty, organizers expect a diverse group
of people to attend.
Forum for sharing experiences
The main purpose of the conference is to create a forum for black
women in academia to share their experiences and their work and to
network with others in similar fields.
The conference has no central focus. Instead, about 200 participants
will be presenting papers on a wide variety of topics, Kilson said.
Presentations will concern topics such as "career issues, getting
jobs, getting through graduate school," she said. Also, some
presenters will discuss issues "of wider interest to black women in
general." This includes politics, the fates of Anita Hill and Lani
Guinier, reproductive policy, and welfare policy, she said.
Kilson said she does not anticipate one particular highlight for the
meeting. Rather, "the whole conference is the highlight."
The conference will feature three keynote speakers: Lani Guinier
from the University of Pennsylvania Law School -- President Bill
Clinton's candidate to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice
Department before he withdrew her nomination; Dr. Johnnetta Cole,
president of Spelman College; and Professor Angela Davis of the
University of California Santa Cruz.
In addition to these speeches, more than 60 panels, workshops, and
round-table discussions will take place.
Original idea for the conference
Kilson came up with the idea for the conference "through [her]
personal frustration through the sense of isolation as a black
woman." There are few black female faculty members, especially here
at MIT, she noted.
Furthermore, when she went to academic conferences, she felt
isolated because few black women were present. With this conference,
black women can have the "experience of being in the majority
instead of the minority for a change."
She came up with the idea four years ago, then found collaborators
to help her plan the conference. Evelynn M. Hammonds, professor of
the history of science, is the other organizer. The conference is
sponsored by MIT, Wellesley College, Radcliffe College, and several
If there were a prototype to this conference, it would be a small
meeting held about 20 years ago at Radcliffe College, Kilson said.
One hundred people attended the event.
Because of the great amount of planning required and the high costs,
the conference will not be an annual event, Kilson said. Planning
this conference has "taken up 14 months of my life," she said.
Kilson hopes another school will take on the project three to five
years from now. A likely choice would be Spelman College in Atlanta,
she said. Spelman is a college for black women.
Though it is still possible to register for the conference, people
should be aware that registration has exceeded the capacity of
Kresge, Kilson said. Interested people could still see the keynote
speeches via video monitors in designated overflow rooms.
---- Copyright 1994 by The Tech. All rights reserved. This story was
published on Wednesday, January 12, 1994. Volume 113, Number 65 The
story began on page 1 and jumped to page 12.
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