Jennifer Bartell is wearing a teal shirt and black pants and is holding a microphone on a stage. A presentation says "What We Build" by Jennifer Bartell Boykin with USC WGST 50th Anniversary logo

What We Build

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.