I don't have any of my material with me --- for really interesting info and background on our profession, you all should immediately read Ellen Messer-Davidow's book Disciplining Feminism: From Social Activism to Academic Discourse --- but I wanted to give a quick shout-out to another aspect of the Modern Language Association and conference: the Graduate Student Caucus, which has been around for quite a while, was very active in the 90s around the job crisis, and has been a bit more quiet lately but is still doing good work. I got peripherally involved as the big visible stuff was winding down, back when I first started grad school, but was sidetracked into more local political concerns.
The MLA GSC, though not quite as rowdy and visible as when William Pannapacker headed it up, still performs a valuable service in the profession, and that service is to shout loudly and repeatedly, "there's still a job crisis! Grad students are still being exploited and tossed aside! Hello! We don't have the money to do ____! (fill in the blank here)" In the past, the GSC has shouted and raised hell and gotten some concrete tiny improvement, but any time they (or we) stop our hollering and constant reminding, things slip back into a very uncomfortable status quo and those with power and secure, busy academic lives, get distracted from the fact that structurally, the big problems have not been solved.
Passing resolutions to make it standard for job candidates being flown out be reimbursed? GSC pressure. Resolutions not to ask job candidates for piles of material because of the copying and mailing costs? Also GSC (you'll notice that the burden of writing samples and other requests has crept back up again lately). There are more good things the GSC has done, but I don't have anything saved at my parents' house, or the Disciplining Feminism book with me. And we seem to have accidentally lost the web domain name for the GSC's cool website, and they are replacing it with a Facebook account. I'll note that not all grads have or want a Facebook account, and besides, a web site does a better job of preserving and presenting an organization's history and back story for easy searching. Might I suggest that the GSC look into a blog? They are free, and could combine the ease of Facebook with the flexibility of a web site. But I digress.
Below I'll put some workshop and panel info that went out on the GSC listserv, but first I want to reiterate the importance of the Disciplining Feminism book, not just to feminists and their allies, but anyone who wants some background on how the upheaval of the 60s impacted the MLA. In her book, Messer-Davidow traces out how feminism was transformed as it moved from activist groups outside the academy to an official academic discipline, and a methodology or complement to other academic disciplines, including literary studies. This is where the GSC, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the Florence Howe award all tie together. Or at least, I remember constantly going "whoa! I had no idea about our past or why we do things this way!" while reading that chapter, so I hope it is similarly inspiring to you all. Plus the preface, in which she tells the story of how she became a feminist, is short and wonderfully teachable to undergraduates who haven't personally experienced the kind of sexist shit that used to be more rampant (although women getting a divorce today can still have their husbands say "I will ruin you" and all the institutions from the courts on down can collude, this isn't so common that all of your students will have encountered it). If you want to be in this profession, you have an obligation to know its history. This is a slightly less standard, but perhaps slightly more useful, account --- go get this book.
"Dear members of the Graduate Student Caucus of the MLA--
1.) MLA events:
This year the GSC will be hosting a panel, a professional roundtable, and an informal (i.e. "unofficial"!) happy hour get-together at MLA. We hope to see many folks at all three of these events.
The GSC's professional roundtable, "The Dissertation and the Book: A Roundtable for Graduate Students," will be Saturday, December 29th, 8:30-9:45 am in the Burnham Room, Hyatt Hotel, and will feature Professors Karen Cardozo, Jennifer Fleissner, Kent Puckett, and Jennifer Scappettone talking about the process of turning the dissertation into a book.
The GSC's academic panel, on "Genre and the Forms of History," will be on Sunday, December 30th, from 1:45-3:00 pm in Superior A, Sheraton Hotel, and will feature papers on the "postcolonial surreal" (by Maureen Fadem), neo-noir film (by Ted Martin), Renaissance tragedy (by Martin Moraw), and the contemporary Georgic (by Margaret Ronda).
The GSC will also host an informal Welcome to the MLA get-together on Thursday, December 27th, at 7:00 at the BIG Bar at the Hyatt Regency."
* This post was originally titled "A Short Note..." but, as usual, I can't be brief to save my life.