Conference for Black Women to Be Held at MIT

Conference for Black Women to Be Held at MIT

By Sarah Y. Keightley

News Editor

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 
January.

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 
foundations.

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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