MARCH 28, 2017 | By BRIANA FLOREZ for The Daily Mississippian
University of Mississippi students and faculty, visiting college students and two keynote speakers will speak about gender and sexuality issues this weekend at the 17th annual Student Gender Conference.
The theme of this year’s conference, hosted by the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, is In/Visible, which will enable participants to explore their “visibility” in society, study and personal life.
Theresa Starkey, associate director of the Isom Center, said the conference will be a way for people to obtain a better understanding for the work the Isom Center does.
“The conference is a way for our students on our campus and the larger Oxford community to learn about the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and the work we do and the types of dynamic classes we offer each semester,” Starkey said.
Students, scholars, writers and activists presenting at the conference had to submit a 300-word abstract in February outlining an idea designed to strengthen communities and promote social change.
Panelists at the conference will discuss feminism in Greek life, women in STEM fields and gender and the blues, among other topics.
Keynote speaker Ashly Burch will kick off the conference at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Thad Cochran Research Center. Burch is an Emmy-nominated writer and British Academy of Film and Television Arts-nominated actress, with voice acting roles in animated series such as “Adventure Time” and “We Bare Bears.” Burch is also involved in the gaming industry and is the voice for Chloe in “Life is Strange” and Tiny Tina in “Borderlands 2.”
Burch’s address, “Entering a Place of Risk,” will be about her experience as a woman in her career field, as well as gender and identity in the gaming industry.
“I think discussing gender and gender identity in games is so important because games are one of the largest and most visible modern entertainment mediums, especially with young people,” Burch said. “The types of female characters we include in games are sending signals to our young people, giving them cues into how they should treat women or how young women should see themselves. It’s important for us to expose them to responsible and compelling representations of women for that reason.”
Burch’s career got started when she and her brother created their own web series, “Hey Ash, Watcha Playin?” The web series now has 279,000 subscribers and more than 48 million views in five seasons.
Burch said she hopes her lecture will offer encouragement and validation to young women.
“I hope my lecture provides encouragement to young women that are trying to pursue their creative passions, but more than that, I hope that in hearing some of my experiences, that folks feel seen and validated.”
Juliana Huxtable is the second keynote speaker and will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Ford Center Studio. Huxtable is a transgender artist who uses various art platforms to show support for safe spaces and inclusivity. Her work has been featured at the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Art.
Graduate student Alicia Venchuk is one of many presenters at the conference and plans to uncover why many blues women and guitarists are nearly invisible and underrepresented.
“My presentation will expose the deeper cultural problems with gender, stereotypes, terms and the representation of race in blues feminism and blues scholarship,” Venchuk said. “I hope participants learn about the flaws that need to be remedied in blues scholarship and learn more about the importance of blues women guitarists’ importance to blues history.”
Starkey said one of the Isom Center’s main goal of the conference is to highlight the importance of interdisciplinary studies, the humanities and gender studies.
“We want to celebrate and showcase what our university students are doing in terms of research, and our conference gives them that platform,” Starkey said.
All conference events are free and open to the public.