2024 Keynotes & Plenaries

The Status of Women and Gender Centers and Women’s Studies Programs in Higher Education

Thursday, April 11, at 10:00 am

Women’s studies programs and women and gender centers are increasingly worried about their survival on college campuses. As colleges become increasingly criticized as bastions of “liberal indoctrination” and more and more states pass laws prohibiting diversity education, as well as decreased interest among students in pursuing women’s studies, there are more threats to the existence of women’s studies and women’s centers. In our study, we seek to understand the reality and nature of these threats, as well as hopefully equip these centers and programs with the tools they need to fight against funding cuts and dissolution from both inside and outside their universities. On behalf of the National Women’s Studies Association, a survey was sent to the directors of women and gender centers and the chairs/program directors of women’s studies programs or departments (including anyone who oversaw a minor or certificate housed in another department), regarding their funding, staffing, offerings, and the general university climate or attitude toward their program/center. This data was combined with IPEDS data describing the type of school, overall funding and staffing details, and location, in order to consider the political climate of the school and compare across types of institutions. Approximately 200 centers and programs responded to the survey. In this presentation, we focus on the qualitative data, in which respondents describe in detail their experiences with their university leadership and the changes they have experienced, including threat of or actual merger with other departments in order to sustain their programs. We address the implications of these experiences for the persistence of women’s and gender studies in the United States. Dr. Stephanie Rytilahti, Director of the UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium, will contextualize the status of programs, departments, and centers across UW System within this larger, national data set.

Dr. Angela Clark-Taylor





Dr. Hannah Regan





Stephanie Rytilahti headshot
Dr. Stephanie Rytilahti

Stephanie Rytilahti, PhD
Director, UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium 

Hmong Studies in the University of Wisconsin System

Thursday, April 11, at 4:00 pm

Participants during the HMoob American Studies Social Justice Retreat at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2022

This plenary session brings together students, faculty, staff, and community members involved in envisioning, fighting for, growing, building, and implementing Hmong Studies programs within the University of Wisconsin System over the last two decades. Hmong Studies as a field of study emerged and was formed through advocacy, much like other interdisciplines such as ethnic studies and gender and women’s studies. Since the mid-2000s, we’ve seen the emergence of Hmong Studies and Hmong-related courses, research, language revitalization efforts, creative activity, student programming, international study programs, and community-based activist and scholarly projects emerge on campuses in the UW System. However, we have yet to learn how these developments came about and the stakes involved in ensuring the growth and continuance of Hmong Studies as a field of study in the UW System. This plenary charts the emergence of Hmong Studies by detailing the challenges and successes it has encountered as it sought to ground itself in the academy.

At a moment when ethnic studies, critical race theory, gender and women’s studies, and affirmative action are all under attack in the state and nationally, the visionaries on this plenary will address the following questions: What lessons have we learned from organizing for Hmong Studies in the UW System? What were some of the strategies that were implemented in order to ensure that Hmong Studies materialize, survive, and thrive? What were some of the complications, contradictions, and tensions among students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members in the various visions of building Hmong Studies across the UW System, and how were they addressed? How might collaboration with cultural centers or community organizations enable Hmong Studies to evolve in the future? How have intersectional collaborations with other interdisciplines like Asian American studies, ethnic studies, or gender and women’s studies transformed Hmong Studies? What challenges remain as future students, faculty, staff, and community members seek to expand on the curriculum, research, creative activity, and programming in current Hmong Studies programs on the selected UW campuses? In alignment with the theme of this year’s conference of “Honoring Our Past, Securing Our Future: Resilience and Reclamation in Higher Education,” how might we honor the past and secure the future of Hmong Studies in the UW System and within higher education?

Dr. Kong Pheng Pha

Dr. Kong Pheng Pha is assistant professor of gender and women’s studies and Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research and teaching examines Hmong American experiences in the diaspora, Asian American racial, gender, sexual, and queer formations, and social justice organizing in the U.S. From 2016 to 2023, he was a faculty member in the Department of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he taught courses, engaged in student-faculty research, and led an international research trip in critical Hmong studies.


Chong Moua


Chong Moua teaches Hmong Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Her research interests center around the question of how immigration, race, gender, citizenship, and empire produce discourses of belonging.



Lena Lee

Lena Lee was one of the five founders of the HMoob American Studies Committee (HMASC) and advocated for the establishment of a HMoob American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was also a student researcher with the Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub team for three years, where they identified factors that influence the HMoob American student experience at UW-Madison. During her time, she helped establish the HMoob American Studies Emphasis under the Asian American Studies Program and presented research findings to various stakeholders across the country.

Dr. Mai See Thao

Dr. Mai See Thao is a medical anthropologist with research interests in chronicity, historical trauma, displacement, the refugee body, biopolitics, and care. She also leads two CBPR projects, one examining the intersection of type 2 diabetes and social determinants of health for the Hmong and a community-based and community-led exhibit on Hmong historical trauma and healing in Wisconsin. She brings together the theoretical and applied to demonstrate the importance of knowledge being useful, especially to the communities it comes from. Dr. Thao is currently an Anna Julia Cooper Postdoctoral Fellow.

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50 Years of Ms. Magazine!
Feminist Scholars and Public Writing

Friday, April 12, at 10:00 am

Co-Sponsored by UW-Madison’s Department of History, UW-Madison School of Journalism

Since its earliest days, Ms. has been a brazen act of independence, demonstrating the untapped potential for journalism that centers news and analysis on women and their lives. The magazine’s new book, 50 YEARS OF Ms., showcases it all, decade by decade, as well as behind-the-scenes photographs that reveal and reflect the changes set in motion by Ms.—and, of course, the iconic covers that galvanized readers. This panel celebrates 50 years of Ms. and engages in critical conversation with public scholars at the forefront of intersectionally-focused public discourse: Aviva Dove-Viebahn, Karon Jolna, Linda Perkins, and Stacy Keltner.  This panel will explore the future of feminism and higher education demands and the urgent need for feminist scholars to engage the public for the fight ahead.

Read more here.

Ms. Magazine Writing Workshop

Friday, April 12, at 1:45 pm

As powerful thinkers whose work is grounded in lived experience, feminist scholars have an obligation to advance public discourse around issues affecting women and girls, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, indigenous peoples, LGBTQAI individuals, those who are disabled or neurodivergent, and others whose experiences have been marginalized or whose very existence is threatened by policy and/or shifts in the cultural tide. This workshop offers practical guidance for amplifying your voice through public-facing writing. Presenters will share their own experiences and provide practical advice for pitching ideas to magazines, newspapers, and blogs in key print and online forums, as well as brainstorming potential topics and pitches based on attendees’ interests and expertise.

Can we make freedom in a place called higher education?

Friday, April 12, at 3:00 pm


In this talk, Leigh Patel will provide historical and contemporary analyses of higher education to interrogate the fundamental question: can universities be engines for social change? What facilitates that change? What obstacles does change encounter? And a spoiler alert: DEI is not the engine for social change, but collectives are necessary.

Dr. Leigh Patel

Dr. Leigh Patel is a writer, educator, and cultural worker. Her work is based in the knowledge that as long as oppression has existed so have freedom struggles. She is a community-based researcher as well as an eldercare provider. Dr. Patel is a Professor of Education at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, where she also served as the inaugural associate dean for equity and justice. She is also an elected member of the National Academy of Education and co-directs the mentoring program, Cultivating New Voices. Prior to being employed as a professor, she was a middle school language arts teacher, a journalist, and a state-level policymaker. She is also a proud national board member of Education for Liberation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on supporting low-income people, particularly youth of color, to understand and challenge the injustices their communities face. 

Professor Patel has written for academic outlets as well as being interviewed for or writing for wider outlets including: Truthout, Beacon Broadside, The Conversation, The Feminist Wire, and The Atlantic. Her latest book, No Study Without Struggle: Confronting Settler Colonialism in Higher Education, from Beacon Press, contends with the distinct yet deeply connected forms of oppression while also shedding light on the crucial history of political education for social transformation. Her walk-on song is “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest.

Artists' Panel

Chosen Home: Trans Beyond Spaces

Saturday, April 13, at 10:15 am

Photo collage of Kean O’Brien, Avion Pearce, Andre Keichian, and Oli Rodriguez

This panel explores the way home is deeply questioned in the artwork of three artists. Concepts of home will be named and will create an opportunity to discuss how, for many trans and non-binary folks, home is a complicated space, as our identities have always been put up for debate, creating a potential split attachment to social constructions of home and where we then belong. The trans and non-binary space created in these works is transnational, representing and building across geographic and emotional borders and rifts between lived and imagined historical realities. This trans-beyond space allows this artwork to be positioned as a possible queer diaspora and a deep questioning of home by these trans and non binary artists. This panel is part of a multi-year exploration of Home/Land as part of the Mellon Foundation’s Affirming Multivocal Humanities program organized by the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

This panel will investigate the photographic projects of Andre Keichian, Avion Pearce, and, Oli Rodriguez, and will be facilitated by Kean O’Brien.

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The African Women’s Studies Centre and the Future of Global Feminism

 Saturday, April 13, at 11:45am

Co-Sponsored by UW-Madison’s 4W Initiative: Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World, the African Studies Program, and the Institute for Regional and International Studies National Resource Center (IRIS NRC)

Introduction and Moderation: Dr. Fabu Carter

The African Women’s Studies Centre: The Only Women’s Studies Centre Dedicated to African Women in the World  

As esteemed UW alumnus bell hooks wrote in her book All About Love, “Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue.” This sentiment drives the work of Dr. Wanjiku Kabira and the African Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Nairobi. In this panel, Dr. Kabira will explore the work of the African Women’s Studies Centre and its unique position as the only centre dedicated to women’s scholarship, pedagogy, community engagement, and social justice in Africa. While the history of gender equity and pride centers in the U.S. dates to the 1970s and 1980s, the African Women’s Centre at the University of Nairobi was founded in 2011 and represents the challenges and future opportunities of gender studies on the African continent and globally. Dr. Kabira, a leader of Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE), a distinguished scholar of gender studies, and an alumnus of UW-Madison, will share her work as a founder of the African Women’s Centre as well as her vision for ongoing dialogue, strategies, and partnerships to support the growth of the center and women’s rights on a global scale. She will explore how gender relations in Africa are contextual, community-centered, and based on women’s experiences and social justice interventions. The panel moderator, Dr. Fabu Carter, a UW-Madison and Centre alumnus, will introduce the African Women’s Centre, contextualize the critical need for it to survive and thrive, and share her own experiences as a recent graduate of the Centre. Lilada Gee, local activist and founder of Defending Black Girlhood, will also participate in this conversation and the role of healing for women and girls in the African Diaspora.  

Dr. Wanjiku Kabira

Dr. Wanjiku Kabira is an emeritus professor of Literature and African Women Studies at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. She received her MA in English at UW-Madison and PhD from the University of Nairobi in Literature. Dr. Kabira is a prolific writer, a literary critic, and a gender and policy analyst. She has taught oral literature for many years, carried out field work in many parts of the country, and is renowned in Kenya for advocating for constitutional changes to benefit women. Her first publication in 1984 has been translated into many languages and has deeply influenced the field. Her latest publication in oral literature was in 2010, titled Re-Claiming My Dreams.

Dr. Fabu Carter

Dr. Fabu Carter is an artist, educator, and community activist who has an extensive career designing innovative programs to benefit African American children, families, and elders in Madison, Wisconsin. She is also the director of Community Outreach for UW-Madison’s 4W Initiative: Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World. Professionally known as Poet Fabu in Madison, she is a poet, culture columnist, storyteller, and teaching artist who writes to encourage, inspire, and remind. Read more

Lilada Gee

Lilada Gee is an artist, inspirational speaker, ordained minister, author, mother, and founder of the non-profit organization Defending Black Girlhood, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Lilada, who was sexually abused at a very tender age, suffered after effects like low self-esteem and clinical depression while growing up as a child. This made her very sensitive to the impact of trauma on sexually abused victims. Her experience ignited an unending passion within her to help other sexual abuse victims heal from their trauma, by sharing her work in groups, in a book, and on stage. She uses her book I Can’t Live Like This Anymore! as a powerful tool to help victims take back their lives from secrets and shame. This book is based on her personal story and the steps she took to overcome her trauma. Read more


Art Workshops

Wheelhouse Studios Walk-in Workshops

Wheelhouse Studios is an open art studio in Madison located at the Memorial Union with three versatile workspaces, flexible studio designs, drop-in art opportunities, and classes for enthusiasts and first-time artists alike. Wheelhouse will facilitate drop-in workshops in the Lee Lounge of the Pyle Center on Thursday and Friday and in the AT&T Lounge on Saturday.

Thursday, April 11, 1:00-4:00pm

Lee Lounge

Soul collages

Soul Collages – Let the cut out images and words guide your own personal collage! After it’s complete, what message are these images trying to relay to you?  Time: 15 – 45 minutes. 

Watercolor Water Flow

Watercolor Water Flow – Breathe in, Breathe out. Let the flow and ease of watercolor tune up your well-being.  You’ll be guided on how to create this relaxing, fluid piece.  Time: 30 – 60 minutes

Intuitive Painting with Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli Thursday, April 11, 2:30-4:00pm in Room 209 Pyle

Want to relax and put some paint on a canvas?  Come with an open mind and you’ll be guided to create a one-of-a-kind abstract painting. The participants will be introduced to mark making, layering, highlighting, and quieting using acrylic paint. Time: 1.5 hours to 2 hours

Image of photo of artist standing in front of wall that says "CREATE." Artist is standing and smiling, with long brown hair wearing a colorful sweater and holding paintbrushesGabrielle Javier-Cerulli is the program director at Wheelhouse Studies and has a Master of Arts degree in expressive arts therapy. She describes her personal mixed-media abstract art on canvas, paper, or in art journals as “often rough and a bit chaotic, but balanced with some order.” She is focused on the process and available materials rather than a preconceived, planned outcome and lets the experience of creating guide her.

Friday, April 12, 9:00am-3:00pm

Lee Lounge

Painted mini flower pot with artificial plant

Paint a Mini Flower Pot with Artificial Plant – Seeds have been planted at this informative conference!  Paint your own mini flower pot as a symbolic gesture of your knowledge growing. Time: 15 – 45 minutes

Painted kindness rocks

Kindness Rocks – Paint one rock to keep, paint a couple others to give away to a friend, co-worker, family member, or leave in a public space for a surprise. Spread the good vibes! Time: 15 – 45 minutes

Intuitive Painting with Gabrielle Friday, April 12, 1:30-3:00pm in Room 209 Pyle

Want to relax and put some paint on a canvas?  Come with an open mind and you’ll be guided to create a one-of-a-kind abstract painting. The participants will be introduced to mark making, layering, highlighting, and quieting using acrylic paint. Time: 1.5 hours to 2 hours


 Saturday, April 13, 9:00am-11:30am

AT&T Lounge

Watercolor painting

Soul Collages – Let the cut out images and words guide your own personal collage! After it’s complete, what message are these images trying to relay to you?  Time: 15 – 45 minutes.