WGSS Oral Histories ~ a SCARC & WGSS 521 Feminist Leadership Collaboration

In spring term 2023, SCARC collaborated with the course WGSS 521 Feminist Leadership, taught by Dr. Kali Furman. The class consisted of 8 graduate students, most of whom, but not all, were students within the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. The collaboration consisted of a term-long oral history project, with the interviews added to the OSU Queer Archives Oral History Collection due to the Queer Studies Program’s development as part of the WGSS Program, as well as for the content and perspectives shared within the interviews. The WGSS focus of the class project was in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the WGSS Program’s establishment.

Below is a description of the course and the collaboration:

Over the course of the term, we will work collaboratively with Natalia Fernández in the Special Collections & Archives Research Center (SCARC) on an oral history project that focuses on the legacies of feminist leadership in our community. In honor of the 50-year anniversary of the WGSS program at Oregon State, we will conduct oral histories with members of our WGSS community. We will spend time in the archives learning about histories of feminist leadership, activism, and resistance on our campus, work with Natalia on the purpose and processes of oral histories, and by the end of term, contribute oral histories to SCARC’s collection. We will work collaboratively to determine the structure and process of our oral history project, create an interview guide, and to support each other throughout the process. At the end of the term, we will have an open celebration with SCARC, our interviewees, and the broader WGSS community where we share highlights from our oral histories. 

Engaging with the archives and conducting oral histories through this project allows us to engage with feminist leadership in multiple ways:

– To engage in a feminist leadership praxis, it is important to know the history of the communities we are a part of, what legacies we are leading from, and who we are leading with. This project offers the opportunity to learn about the history of our community and individuals within it, and to think about our own feminist leadership praxis from an informed place-based perspective.

– Conducting oral histories gives us the opportunity to explore the relationship between living a feminist life and praxis-informed feminist leadership for leaders within our community. This process will also allow us to learn things about ourselves too!

– Engaging with the archives and conducting oral histories also allows us to develop a specific skill set that will be useful in your current and future leadership endeavors and is a particular kind of research method that can be applicable to your studies more broadly. 

At the end of the term, the students submitted a total of 7 interviews featuring 9 interviewees! The interviews provide a range of perspectives on the OSU WGSS Program and what feminist leadership means to the interviewees.

Below are the oral history interviews, organized in chronological order, with the bio notes and summaries written by the students:

Ron Mize Oral History, interviewed by Jakki Mattson on May 10, 2023

Link to the Ron Mize Oral History Interview

Bio: Ron Mize is an associate professor in the School of Language, Culture, and Society and former coordinator of Ethnic Studies (2020-2021). He previously taught International Relations, Sociology, Latino Studies, and Ethnic Studies at ITAM (Mexico City), Humboldt State University, Cornell University, University of Saint Francis-Fort Wayne, California State University-San Marcos, University of California San Diego, Southwestern College, Colorado State University and University of Wisconsin Rock County.  He was trained as a journalist at the University of Colorado Boulder and went on to study Sociology at Colorado State University (MA) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (PhD). In 2016, he was the Fulbright-Garcia Robles Chair in U.S. Studies at el Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México.  In 2020-2021, he was the Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. His scholarly research focuses on the historical origins of racial, class, and gender oppression in the lives of Mexicano/as and Latina/os residing in the United States. Due to the reliance on Mexican labor in the rural industries of agriculture, mining, and railroad construction, his historical research explores the class, gender, and race formations of Anglo-Chicano relations as they relate to these sectors of rural spaces and the economy. He investigates the degree to which contemporary immigrant labor is informed by the history of Mexican incorporation into the rural United States. He is also committed to building Latinx studies within a comparative ethnic studies framework. He seeks to understand the underlying assumptions about nation, race, identity, gender and class in how the public forms our opinions about immigration and part of his effort is to carve out a new paradigm for understanding both the political economy and culture of immigration as well as their interconnections. Dr. Mize is the author of over 50 scholarly publications, including LATINA/O STUDIES (2019, Polity Books),  THE INVISIBLE WORKERS OF THE U.S.-MEXICO BRACERO PROGRAM: OBREROS OLVIDADOS (2016, Lexington Books), CONSUMING MEXICAN LABOR: FROM THE BRACERO PROGRAM TO NAFTA (2010, University of Toronto Press, with Alicia Swords), and LATINO IMMIGRANTS IN THE UNITED STATES (2012, Polity Books, with Grace Peña Delgado).

Summary: In this oral history with Dr. Ron Mize, the conversation begins by Dr. Mize describing a small insight into his homelife before he decided to pursue higher education. He describes how he was the second person in his family to attend college and what the alternative would have been if he didn’t (working full time for his family’s carpet cleaning and chemical business). After he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Colorado Boulder, he worked in radio for a few years before deciding to pursue additional higher education. He earned his Master’s in sociology from Colorado State University then continued on to get his PhD in sociology from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Once he received his doctorate, he entered the job market in institutions of higher education. He talked about his experiences trying to get tenure at Cornell University and the challenges he faced in the process, which ultimately led to his tenure being denied and him leaving the university. Throughout the approximately dozen institutions of higher education at which he has worked, he finally settled at Oregon State University within Ethnic Studies. He talks about the institutional changes that were in progress and continued once he arrived, including the institutional movement from departments to programs and colleges to schools (to encourage more interdisciplinary work). Throughout the conversation, Dr. Mize details the challenges he and others faced doing critical pedagogical and research work. He details the institution systematically working against the advancements he and other colleagues in the ethnic studies and women, gender, and sexualities studies programs were doing to advance critical feminist and race studies at Oregon State University. Throughout the conversation, Dr. Mize speaks to how women, feminist principles, and feminist leadership impacted the work he has done and continues to do. He intertwines narratives and experiences from growing up with how those moments impact the work he continues to do now. He strives to embody feminist practices and principles in every classroom he is a part of without necessarily labeling himself or his actions in that way. Dr. Mize acknowledges and honors the work and legacy others did within the WGSS program here at Oregon State before he arrived and the work that others continue to do now. While not chronological in narrative, this oral history of how Dr. Mize became affiliated with the WGSS program at Oregon State and is unique in detailing the institutional barriers and successes this program has experienced.

Qwo-Li Driskill Oral History, interviewed by a WGSS Student on May 22, 2023

Interview Available Upon Request

Bio: Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill is an unenrolled Cherokee and Two-Spirit scholar, activist, and artist. Qwo-Li Driskill is an Associate Professor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) at Oregon State University. They are also the Director of Graduate Studies and Coordinator for Queer Studies in WGSS at OSU. They earned their Ph.D. from Michigan State University in Rhetoric and Writing with a concentration in Cultural Rhetorics. They also hold an M.A. from Antioch University in Whole Systems Design with concentrations in Native Writing, Theater, Story, and Resistance, and a B.A. from University of Northern Colorado in Social Transformation and the Arts. They are the author of two books, Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory, and Walking With Ghosts. They are also the co-editor for Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature and the editor of Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature.

Summary: Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill begins the conversation by providing background information about how they came into their own feminist praxis and the formation of their own feminist ideologies, stemming from their mother, growing up in rural Colorado, queer, and trans organizing, and being influenced by Indigenous feminisms, Black feminisms and Womanisms, Crip and Disability feminisms and Transfeminisms. Dr. Driskill continues the conversation by talking about the importance of looking to queer and trans ancestors who cleared the way for the work they do in WGSS to be possible and to look to their work for answers to current political issues. They talk through the development of Queer Studies at Oregon State University, creating the largest number of course offerings in Trans Studies for graduate education, and the many strengths of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, including that the WGSS graduate program at Oregon State is mostly comprised of queer and trans identifying students.

Mehra Shirazi Oral History, interviewed by Md Tanveer Hossain Anoy on May 22, 2023

Link to the Mehra Shirazi Oral History Interview

Bio: Dr. Mehra Shirazi is a bicultural, bilingual community-engaged scholar with a broad background in health behavior. Their work is grounded in postcolonial feminist scholarship that focuses on health in the global context of race, gender, immigration, and environment. Their particular focus is on health inequities among immigrant/refugee women, specifically on the socio-cultural barriers limiting access to breast health and lifesaving prevention and care through the utilization of Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR). Shirazi’s scholarship also addresses transnational praxis and pedagogy through critical studies of culture, lived experience, and narratives of decolonization with publications on Muslim mothering, family relationships in Iranian film, anti-racist pedagogy, and gendered Islamophobia. Dr. Shirazi joined the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies faculty in the School of Language, Culture, and Society in 2011.  She was a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Some courses they teach include: Global Perspectives on Women’s Health, Violence Against Women, Feminist Research Methods, and Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Health Justice.  In 2017, Dr. Shirazi was awarded Oregon State University’s Frances Dancy Hooks Award, for building bridges across cultures and modeling transformative action.

Summary: A Bonding of Transnational Feminists ~ Oral history has an immense power to uphold the intersectional history of narrative and experience – an unstructured decolonized talk with one of the prominent professors of the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University – Dr. Mehra Shirazi is no stranger to anyone. Their postcolonial approach to working broke and created conversations in academia. Migrating from Iran and earning a Ph.D. wasn’t a smooth journey for Dr. Mehra Shirazi. No matter how qualified they showed to the world, the white power structure always struck her down with questions like – “How women like you, Muslim women like you- who wear a Hijab can contribute to the feminist world?” Who’s the feminist world white people are talking about? The narrative they have created? Who gave the power to say a person can wear this or that- how can ideology be this much segregated? Throughout the interview, Dr. Mehra Shirazi shared how lived experiences helped her to get into her own feminist journey. Dr. Mehra’s decision to migrate wasn’t an easy one; it was more like a forced one. She spoke about her positionality in academia, shared a couple of triggering stories for being targeted as traditional Muslim women, and spoke highly about her stance with antiracist, anticapitalist, and anti-imperialist- although being vocal also comes with a price. Dr. Mehra Shirazi being in the department is a political statement; it gives a very strong intersectional and transnational to the white-dominated culture. Unfortunately, the number of people like her is so low that the journey can be very tough and lonely. As a South Asian, brown, Queer, international student- voices like Dr. Mehra give me strength and hope for greater intersectionality in movement and leadership building. This oral history is a monument of the change, the diversity we have been craving for a long time.

Patti Duncan and Patti Sakurai Oral History, interviewed by Trung Nguyen on May 23, 2023

Link to the Patti Duncan and Patti Sakurai Oral History Interview

Bios: Patti Duncan is a Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University, specializing in women of color feminisms and transnational feminisms. She is the author of Tell This Silence: Asian American Women Writers and the Politics of Speech and numerous articles and essays. She is also the editor of the scholarly journal, Feminist Formations, as well as co-editor of the anthology, Mothering in East Asian Communities: Politics and Practices, co-editor of the textbook, Women Worldwide: Transnational Feminist Perspectives, 2nd edition, and co-editor of the four-volume encyclopedia, Women’s Lives Around the World.  Patti Sakurai is an Associate Professor in Ethnic Studies with teaching and research in critical ethnic studies and Asian American studies. She received her Ph.D. in English from SUNY at Stony Brook and taught at UC Santa Barbara, Colorado College, and Emory University, where she held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship prior to arriving at OSU. Also a filmmaker, her short films engage issues of race and Asian American experiences and have screened at various film festivals in Portland, Seattle, New York City, Hong Kong, and Macau. She was a founding member of the production collective for APA Compass, a monthly public affairs program on KBOO 90.7 FM Portland.

Summary: “Asian/Asian American Feminisms on the OSU Campus” ~ Starting the interview, Nguyen introduces the purpose of this specific issue of OSU Oral History Interview project focusing on the celebration of 50 years anniversary of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program at OSU. Duncan and Sakurai then each introduce themselves before delving into stories of how they first met at Emory University where Sakurai was doing her postdoc while Duncan was working on her doctoral degree. The two continue to share their favorite memories of each other including another graduate student that they had previously co-mentored. Duncan, Sakurai, and Trung then reflects on what it means to be an interdisciplinary or anti-disciplinary programs like WGSS and Ethnic Studies (ES). Duncan and Sakurai next describe what feminism means to each of them. They continue by sharing the roots of their feminisms which stem from their mothers and the feminist authors and books that they read. Both Duncan and Sakurai agree that their feminisms are unapologetically inspired by women of color and Asian/Asian American feminisms. After sharing briefly about their feminist journey at OSU, Duncan and Sakurai expressed both hope and critiques for the status quo of Asian/Asian American Studies at OSU. They move on by sharing the complexity and muddled grouping of Asian American and Pacific Islander in recent political contexts. Nguyen briefly mentions the hope for future interview with Patricia Fifita, a new Ethnic Studies and Indigenous Studies Assistant Professor at OSU, in order to discuss more in depth this identity politics topic. Duncan and Sakurai sum up the significance of feminist leadership that is elevated by Asian & Asian American feminisms on OSU campus. They reflect on how their feminist leadership has changed over time in support of students on campus who need their guidance and feminist practices. Their practice of women of color feminist leadership can at times conflict with institutional barriers that they themselves find creative resistant methods to challenge these obstacles while managing to offer the best support they could for their students. The three, Nguyen included, conclude by staking their hopes for the future of women of color feminist practices and its presence on OSU campus so that Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and other students of color could feel represented and supported for a better and more diverse campus environment.

Whitney Archer and Kali Furman Oral History, interviewed by Elizabeth Kennedy on May 25, 2023

Link to the Whitney Archer and Kali Furman Oral History Interview

Bios: Kali Furman is an Instructor for the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Oregon State University. Dr. Furman is a social justice educator with over ten years of experience in higher education providing education, programming, and training for students, staff, and faculty. Research interests in social justice education, feminist pedagogies, faculty development, institutional change, and student activism. Whitney Archer  holds an Ed.M in College Student Services Administration, an M.A. in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies, and is a current PhD Candidate in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. As the Associate Director of Diversity & Cultural Engagement and Director of the Women’s Center at Oregon State University, Whitney provides leadership for the Women’s Center and support for all seven of Cultural Resource Centers. Whitney’s research interests include gender identity and expression, feminist leadership, feminist pedagogy and student activism.

Summary: Using a Story Corp Model, Kennedy poses questions to Whitney Archer and Dr. Kali Furman about feminist leadership and the relationship between the Women, Gender, & Sexualities Studies program and the Women & Gender Center at Oregon State University. Within this interview, they share their thoughts on what feminism means to Archer and Furman, how they each came to find feminism, and in turn how feminism informs their work. In addition to how feminism informs their work now, they discuss how their approach has changed overtime and how that change has been reflected in the relationship between the Women & Gender Center and the Women, Gender & Sexualities Studies program.  Both Archer and Furman discuss what brought them to Oregon State University and some of the experiences they have had in their time at the institution, including challenges they have faced and ways in which they have been strategic in their work.  Archer and Furman speak to how they grappled with the reality of trying to do feminist work in an inherently hierarchical system of higher education and how they have built accountability with each other to strive for congruence between their values and the work they do. As a follow up to their conversation about finding congruence, Archer and Furman discuss how we can move from performative tropes of feminism or social justice in the institution to making meaningful institutional change. They focus on ways they have seen push back against a White liberal feminist leadership framework that positions feminist leadership as the GirlBoss aesthetic. Archer and Furman conclude their conversation by sharing how they hope to see the partnership between the Women & Gender Center and the Women, Gender & Sexualities Studies program grow in the future.

Nana Osei-Kofi Oral History, interviewed by Keara Rodela on May 30, 2023

Link to the Nana Osei-Kofi Oral History Interview

Bio: Nana Osei-Kofi is Director of the Difference, Power, & Discrimination Program/ Associate Professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Prior to her appointment at Oregon State University in 2013, Osei-Kofi was Associate Professor and Director of the Social Justice Studies Graduate Certificate Program in the School of Education at Iowa State University. Her areas of scholarly focus include critical and feminist teaching and learning, the politics of American higher education, Black Nordic studies, and visual cultural studies. Journals in which her work has appeared include, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, Feminist Formations, Equity & Excellence in Education, Latino Studies, and The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. Her current work includes a book project titled Cultural Production and the Construction of an Afro-Swedish Identity, and several articles on the notion of “ally as identity” within social justice work in higher education. Osei-Kofi serves on the editorial board of Feminist Formations and The Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, and is the incoming Vice-President of the National Women’s Studies Association.

Summary: In this oral history with Dr. Nana Osei-Kofi, the conversation begins with Dr. Osei-Kofi sharing about her cultural background, being raised by her Swedish mother and Ghanaian father, living between Ghana and Sweden, and moving to the U.S. when she was in her 20’s. She comes from a family of educators but ended up doing work in non-profits around diversity, equity, and inclusion for many years. She decided she loved education and pursued her Ph.D. in educational studies. During her graduate programs, she found herself in a couple of women’s studies classes, discovered that women’s studies focus on race, class, and sexism, and completed an M.A. in applied women’s studies alongside her Ph.D. Dr. Osei-Kofi worked at Iowa State University before joining OSU as the Director of Difference, Power, & Discrimination. After briefly discussing her background, we discussed how feminism found her. She decided it was best to have her tenure housed in WGSS, where the work she was interested in was happening at OSU. Dr. Osei-Kofi discusses how feminism found her and the feminist authors that informed her practice. Her interest is, and she is invested, in a radical feminist praxis. She is not interested in liberal feminism. She speaks on how feminism is a way of life, and a feminist praxis is part of your life, not just scholarship, “the personal is political.” Next, Dr. Osei-Kofi speaks on how she has engaged with activism and teaching and how feminism gave her language and tools to describe, understand, and make meaning. She speaks about other feminists of color who have influenced her scholarship. As well as mentioned how some of her colleagues and students work, which is equally important. She is intentional and appreciates and cites the work of activities, especially youth. We discuss not limiting your intellectual learning and engagement to the canon because it keeps us in rigidity and does not allow for movement within the community. Speaking of her time at OSU, she shared of her experiences as an administrator and faculty in WGSS. She is describing how her department is unique in how WGSS colleagues engage and each other. She feels that the diversity in disciplines and interests contributes to the lack of direct competition with other colleagues and the support they provide each other in this space. Dr. Osei-Kofi also touches on the challenges of making true institutional change and the resources and policies needed to make the actual changes identified. She felt it was important to talk about how institutions know what to do and they should put their resources where the work needs to be done. We then discuss the status of students of color within WGSS and student and faculty retention. She mentions how the student body in undergraduate mirrors the institution, and it is better in graduate programs, but still not many Black students in either area. Student and faculty retention is impacted by finances as well as the interest of students in social justice activities and activism over the past decade; in addition, by the time graduate students come to WGSS, most folks have an idea of what they want to do within WGSS. We then discuss how her feminist leadership has changed over time. An example she gave was her choosing when she would engage in activities or projects—balancing time and effort as a way to redress burnout in her field and career and recognizing whom we can do the work with, in solidarity, and when it is not possible. Within WGSS, it has played out in how she decides not to take on student defense or independent work outside of her 9-month contract and is transparent with students about why. This connects to taking a stance on doing the work they compensated, not taking on free labor as an institutional issue, and making it clear that it is. Dr. Osei-Kofi discusses an instance where the institution challenged feminist leadership. Then we move into conversations around the institution’s engagement in DEI work surrounding the Gorge Floyd murder and how that engagement did not go as far as hoped. As well as the need for sufficient financial support and power to the DEI leadership team, who is doing good work. Regarding our conversation around DEI, Dr. Osei-Kofi can be heard saying, “We know what to do.” We moved into a conversation about BIPOC faculty experiences within WGSS, the institution, the classroom, and living in Corvallis. This segwayed us into talking about the Difference, Power, & Discrimination (DPD) program in that she is the current director. DPD is a faculty-wide professional development project started based on student activism. It was Black student activism’s push to address racism on campus and, as part of anonymous students’ demands to the institution, curriculum to address racism, bias, and discrimination. It is now part of the general education requirements. It is about introducing scholarships about DPD issues and supporting faculty and graduate teaching assistants to create courses within their schools that address DPD through workshops and extended cohort support. We wrap up with what she was most proud of during her time at OSU, which includes the book published about the DPD program and what she hopes for the program’s future. We discuss Dr. Osei-Kofi’s upcoming retirement as director of DPD and tenure faculty, her future work, and why she chose to do intellectual activism within the academy with like-minded folks. 

Luhui Whitebear Oral History, interviewed by Gabriela Esquivel on May 31, 2023

Link to the Luhui Whitebear Oral History Interview

Bio: Dr. Luhui Whitebear is an enrolled member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation with Huestec and Cochimi ancestry. She is an assistant professor in the School of Language, Culture, and Society (Indigenous Studies) and has served as the Center Director of the Kaku-Ixt Mana Ina Haws at Oregon State University. Institutionally Luhui serves on the core leadership of the President’s Commission on Indigenous Affairs, the Bias Response Team, and on the Faculty Senate representing the College of Liberal Arts. In the community, she serves as the co-chair of the Corvallis School Board, as the Vice President of the OSBA Caucus of Color, on the MMIW USA board, and on the Oregon Women’s Foundation board. Luhui is a mother, poet, and activist engaged in community-based work. Dr. Whitebear received her Ph.D. from Oregon State University (OSU) in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; her MA from OSU in Interdisciplinary Studies; BS degrees from OSU in Anthropology and Ethnic Studies. Her research focuses on California Indigenous studies, Indigenous feminisms, Indigenous rhetorics, Indigenous activism, MMIW, national law & policy, and Indigenous land & water rights.

Summary: “The Intersection of Motherhood, Feminism, and Culture” ~ Dr. Luhui Whitebear describes her journey and experiences with indigenous feminism and how it has shaped her way of life through her indigenous culture, community, and motherhood. She describes the different ways she has experienced feminism in her life and within her motherhood, coming from a long line of resistance and activism it has always been part of who she is and as a mother. Being able to use her voice and carry on her traditions has transcended into her motherhood, passing those cultural values and resiliency to her children. Dr. Luhui Whitebear describes her journey as a single mother while also being a Ph.D. student at Oregon State University and how it has shaped her feminist experiences, her story is a story of resilience, activism, and determination. Giving hope to OSU students who may be in similar situations to never give up. An ice-breaker moment in one of her classes in the Women’s Gender and Sexual Studies Program (WGSS) is when she discovered her dream job which allowed her to dream big. Dr. Luhui Whitebear’s academic scholarship and leadership are shown through the various roles she’s had throughout her journey as an indigenous Ph.D. student, mother, and advisor, she is grateful to her community and WGSS program for providing the support she needed to reach her goals.

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