And after all that discussion earlier this year.... the association has a new name! As passed by the membership at the Annual General Meeting in May 2012, we are now Women's and Gender Studies et Recherches Féministes! Below are the notes (taken by association secretary Katie Aubrecht) from the special session that was held during the conference (prior to the AGM), to discuss possible new names. There was also lots of discussion during the AGM; minutes from that discussion will be available shortly and also posted here. Stay tuned...and let's all get used to saying "WGSRF" now :)
CWSA/ACEF Forum: Name Change Discussion
Monday, May 28, 2012
Chair: Ann Braithwaite
Abstract Included in the Conference Program: Should CWSA/ACEF contemplate changing the name of the association? If so, to what? And why? At a time when many of our own programs and departments are undertaking such discussions and/or changing their names, and when several members have approached the executive on this topic, the conversation is timely for the association also.
Background: Many programs have recently changed names in Canada and the United States. These changes have been in response to different, often institutional, pressures. The discussion began with the assumption that, as a descriptive name, “The Canadian Women’s Studies Association/ l'association canadienne des études sur les femmes” may not fully represent the interests of current and potential members.
Forum Chair and CWSA/ACEF Communications Officer Ann Braithwaite led the discussion with the following considerations: What is in programs around us? Names are never completely descriptive, but can the association name be more representative? What is the purpose of the association name? Who is the audience?
2011 AGM: The issue of the process involved in discussing the CWSA/ACEF name change was raised from the floor at the 2011 AGM. Susanna Luhmann moved that the Executive initiate a process/forum on the name change and that this issue be discussed at the 2012 AGM. Bobby Noble seconded it and the motion carried.
In response, the Executive created a name change blog that opened Winter 2012 to stimulate dialogue and collect comments from association members to be brought to the change forum. There were 21 responses to the blog, and the comments were brought forward to a name change forum. The forum appeared as a concurrent session in the annual association conference program. In the forum the association name change was discussed and proposed names brought forward from the discussion to the AGM.
Name Change Discussion: In the discussion, there were some questions concerning the process of how to decide on a new name for the association, and whether the name would be generated out of the forum. Association member Linda Christiansen-Ruffman requested that it be noted that she had interpreted the description of the forum in the conference program to mean that the forum would focus on the process concerning a name change, rather than a decision on the association’s name.
Ann Braithwaite described the process which the Executive instituted. The membership received several emails on the topic of a possible association name change. The emails alerted members to the presence of a blog on the association website and invited them to participate in the discussion. The process was comprised of three steps:
Step 1: Blog – Stimulate Discussion
Step 2: Session – Extend Discussion and Draft a List of Alternative Names
Step 3: AGM – Bring Discussion and Suggested Names to Membership Vote
National Level: Since each institution has its own particular history of decisions, the association name change should be treated as distinct from what is happening in specific institutions because it is a national association. Further, there is important disciplinary and interdisciplinary work that is relevant to the field but happening outside of Women’s Studies programs. A new name should encompass the diverse interests of members from across the country, and invite growth.
Who Do We Want to Attract? It was suggested that it would be wise to identify the motivation for the change and to consider who the association is trying to attract. There was a general acknowledgement that different institutions have different student bases. Faculty participants in the discussion shared stories of students who did not identify with the emerging extent to which “Women’s Studies” speaks to students. Although some participants in the discussion suggested that the word “Feminist” be included in the new name, it was also recognized that the history of feminism has been exclusionary to Aboriginal and People of Colour.
Lori Chambers recalled that one of the original purposes of the name change was to make the association more inclusive of, and attractive to Francophone persons. Anne Forrest questioned whether the association might benefit from outreach activities with the Francophone community and other groups. Another consideration concerned how the new name could reflect the fact that Francophone universities have institutes rather than Women’s Studies programs.
Decision to Move Forward with a New Name: Rather than sit on the question of a name change, participants in the discussion agreed that it would be beneficial to move forward with a new name with the understanding that the name change could be revisited in 5 years.
Some practical considerations for the name included the length of name and importance of acronym. It was proposed that a name could be chosen which gestures to something not yet named such as is the case with the name Atlantis, but this proposal was not accepted. Association Treasurer Rhiannon Bury noted that there are Federation rules around association names.
It was suggested that the association name does not necessarily need to include the word “Canadian”, and that having “Canadian” as a primary identifier may be problematic given recognition that it is a national(ist) framework through which colonialism operates.
Linda Christiansen-Ruffman expressed concern about the recent removal of the word “Women” from the association’s affiliated journal Atlantis. There are political issues with getting rid of the word “women”, and that doing so could elide and/or erase women’s struggles and labour in the history of the association. Further, “women” is a recognizable identifier for members who may have left or let their membership lapse and then want to come back. Some participants in the discussion voiced their concerns about the adoption of a name that is wholly unconnected to the original association name.
“Critical” and “intersecting” were some words suggested for inclusion in the new name, and possible names included Gender and Feminist Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, Women’s and Feminist Studies. However, several participants in the discussion noted that the name “Women and Gender Studies” does not have a direct translation in French. Rhiannon Bury also observed that French translations are not included in the Federation program.
Participants in the discussion considered the possibilities and limits of changing the association’s name, and what a name can actually accomplish. The association name will not do the work to attract people, targeted outreach activities are required. There are other ways of communicating, connecting and creating community beyond a name. Bobby Noble suggested that York University offers an example of profile-raising activities that go beyond a name. The University now publicizes its mission statements, makes faculty profiles available on its websites and encouraged students and student groups to define themselves on its websites.
The forum concluded with 3 options for a name change to bring forward to the AGM: