After being held virtually the past two years, the annual Thinking Gender conference returned to campus Feb. 24, with graduate students from the U.S. and Canada gathering at UCLA Covel Commons to share their work and attend workshops.

Hosted by the UCLA Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center, this year’s conference, “Transforming Research: Feminist Methods for Times of Crisis and Possibility,” focused on research processes and encouraged scholars to think outside the boundaries set by mainstream academia.

“It’s inspiring to work with graduate students and see the kinds of projects that are being done,” said Jasmine Trice, associate professor in the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television and faculty director for Thinking Gender 2023. “My hope is that institutions will use this moment to shift ways of thinking and doing, and grad students are crucial to making that possible.” 

Speakers this year included University of Toronto media studies scholars T.L. Cowan and Jas Rault, who offered trans-feminist queer ways to rethink and expand digital research methods. Celine Parreñas Shimizu, a UCLA alumnus and UC Santa Cruz arts dean, gave a presentation before the screening of her documentary “The Celine Archive,” which uncovers stories about the death of Filipina immigrant Celine Navarro. 

Since 1991, the Thinking Gender conference has presented scholarship on women, sexuality and gender, with a critical lens. Topics in past years have included intersectional issues such as transgender studies, mutual aid and reparations.

Trice, who is also associate director of the Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center, talks about the conference and research the center has been involved in.

As faculty director, how have you been able to bring together film and media with research the center is engaged in? 

Since the beginning of Thinking Gender decades ago, the conference has engaged with critical issues in gender studies, activism and related fields. I saw this year as an opportunity to delve into the possibilities that this time of transition offers for the practice of research, for universities as institutions, and for the graduate students who are shaping how research is made and understood. We’re just beginning to reemerge after the pandemic, and mass uprisings for racial justice and labor equity have become a growing part of this reemergence. Intersectional feminist and LGBTQ+ lenses, as well as critiques of colonialism in all its forms are vital for thinking through the possibilities of how we produce knowledge in this moment. 

Film and media can be critical tools in this process of re-imagination. Some of the most interesting work being done right now blurs the boundaries between critical and creative practice, creating new formats for critique.

How has the partnership with Hollywood icon and philanthropist Barbra Streisand raised the profile of the Center for the Study of Women?

Barbra Streisand’s gift and the creation of the Streisand Center has funded research on some of the most essential issues of our time, from environmental crises to the effects of media disinformation on our political systems. Having the support of a public figure of Barbra Streisand’s stature has helped shed further light on the kinds of critical interventions made by faculty and students at UCLA. We are excited about the even wider impact the future Barbra Streisand Institute promises to have.

What do you see as the center’s role in shaping the discourse around issues like incarceration and sexual violence?

The center creates innovative approaches to research and public programming. One example is the recent partnership with the Film & Television Archive around a film collectively made by incarcerated women in 1974 called “We’re Alive.” Archivists found this anonymously made film, contacted the three women who organized it who were UCLA film students at the time, restored the film, and partnered with members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. 

When I attended the screening at the Hammer (Museum at UCLA), it was filled with activists, documentary filmmakers, formerly incarcerated women, students — people from different walks of life with different investments in the project — who came together to form a complete picture of the film’s value and how it speaks to current issues around incarceration. The center brought these different stakeholders into conversation.

This year’s conference challenges people to reevaluate how they think about their approach to research and study. What mindsets are you trying to break or ideas are you working to bring forward?

Academic research has a long and troubled history. At its worst, it can be extractive and create systems of knowledge about particular communities or areas of study without much regard for frameworks that exist within those communities themselves.

It can work to elevate particular objects as more worthy of study than others. For example, in the arts, certain aesthetic styles become codified in part because researchers deem particular kinds of artworks culturally or aesthetically valuable. Publishing books and developing curricula can be powerful because you’re really setting standards for what “counts” as knowledge and whose perspectives matter.

Thinking Gender 2023 aims to create a space to delve into those matters and rethink questions around ethics, critical and creative formats, and different kinds of collaboration.