Poem commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at the University of South Carolina. Read at the WGST conference on September 9, 2023
What We Build By Jennifer Bartell Boykin To be woman is to be everything the world breaks itself against. It is to be all things and none. It is to cry out and hold in. It is to do all of the work and get none of the credit. We were on the margins of academia and society for so long until the brave ones came and said no more: We have a history and a voice. We are here. We have always been here. The time of silence is over. The time in the shadows is over. The time spent on the margins is over. They had no money, got no credit, and no tenure. But no matter. The work still needed to be done, and so they did it. We are beneficiaries of their work, this work, our work that is never quite done. We began as the Women’s Studies Program and then became Women’s and Gender Studies Department. When you call us by our names, you call us by many names: We stand as Indigenous as multi-racial as Black as White as Hispanic as Latinx as Asian American Pacific Islander as sibs with various abilities and religions as non-binary as cisgender as transgender as intersex as lesbian as pansexual as bisexual as asexual as gender fluid as agender as genderqueer as feminists as womanists and as whatever language we will create to describe ourselves in this now and in the future. We were once at the margins but we have been steadily traveling to our center, where all the intersections of our crossroads meet for us to gather and celebrate. We have come this far by work of hands convinced of the urgency of this work. We know how gender is a construct, how its built and how we are expected to conform. But instead we have constructed safe spaces to study and be scholars of ourselves and others not like us. This space has endured because you have endured. After the classes, after the lectures, after the programs, we step into the world, still ourselves, still battling with a republic of zombies who want to erase us. The next fifty years will have new battles, new issues. But we know the power of now and how it can shape the future. We know gender is a construct: to study its construction is to study its demolition, and we are ready with our hard hats, our hands ready to work. We steadily call ourselves in from the margins, and as we walk, we know we will face many battles. But we stand unafraid and brave. We stand. We stand. We stand.