Pembroke Center

2020-21 Year in Review

With scholarly rigor and a dedicated research community, the Pembroke Center found new ways to convene, connect and advance our intellectual mission over the 2020-21 year.

At the Pembroke Center, real-world questions and commitments are integral to our scholarly and research mission. Since 1981, scholars at the Pembroke Center have interrogated the underpinnings and history of the categories used to differentiate individuals and groups—including gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, citizenship and class—and how those categories intersect. In 2020-21, the impact of those forms of difference on daily life were brought into sharp relief as our global and local community contended with the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and efforts to reckon with systemic racial injustice against a backdrop of political polarization; misinformation; health, labor and economic inequities and climate crises.

Student in masksTo prioritize the health and safety of our community, the Pembroke Center adopted virtual and hybrid programming and teaching formats. We were particularly concerned about our students’ well-being, resources, and learning and living environments as they adapted to a virtual or hybrid classroom experience, and we strove to support all of our students, including our international and graduate students whose travel, research and teaching plans were altered by visa, travel and other restrictions.

The many ways our community came together were encouraging and inspiring, and we are grateful that we were able to engage meaningfully with our vibrant network of student, scholars and friends, and endlessly impressed by their seriousness of purpose and perseverance.

2020-21 at a Glance

Five prizewinners
Spring 2021 Pembroke Center grant and prize winners.

Undergraduate students in the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program (GNSS) showed tremendous commitment and dedication to their scholarship and research in the 2020-21 academic year, despite the constraints the pandemic placed on the University's operations. Students from across the University enrolled in the 12 GNSS courses the Pembroke Center offered last year and explored the construction of gender and sexuality in social, cultural, political, economic, and scientific contexts. Students examined how gender and sexuality intersects with public policy, how trans and feminist movements interrelate, how sexual commerce can help shape the cultural identity of a city, how issues of gender, sexuality and difference relate to financial practices, and much more. In their theses and via grants, GNSS students and concentrators broke new ground with research projects on race, power, and family-making; American nationalism in women's magazines; and the relationship between reproductive justice and citizenship, among other topics.

Graduate students in the GNSS certificate program gained specialized professional training in critical methods informed by feminist, queer, trans, and intersectional approaches to difference and participated in a community of scholars dedicated to advancing current conversations in GNSS and developing theoretical frameworks. Whitney Arey, who completed her PhD in the Department of Anthropology at Brown in 2021 with a graduate certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies, won the Marie J. Langlois Dissertation Prize for “Abortion as Care: Affective and Biosocial Experiences of Abortion Access and Decision-Making.” Katherine A. Mason, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Arey's advisor, described the dissertation as "a transformative account of abortion in the US." Dr. Arey is now a postdoctoral scholar at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Hannah Frydman teaching a virtual course
A screenshot of Hannah Frydman, Shauna M. Stark ’76, P ’10 Postdoctoral Fellow, teaching her GNSS course “Sex and Money: The History of Paris since 1750.”

The three 2020-21 Pembroke Center postdoctoral fellows infused our scholarly forums with fresh perspectives and our curriculum with three new courses.They were inventive in adapting their teaching to virtual formats and, as emerging scholars as well as instructors, bridged generations within the Pembroke Center community. The postdoctoral fellows also convened the research roundtable "Unsettling Accounts: Intersectional Approaches to the Politics of Debt," which examined the politics of debt within the histories and contemporary processes of racial capitalism, dispossession, colonialism, and gender oppression. The roundtable extended the discussion of the yearlong Pembroke Seminar and featured presentations by cutting-edge thinkers like Rocio Zambrana, Sarah Muir, Joanne Meyerowitz, Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Denise Ferreira da Silva, and Cheryl I. Harris. 

differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies is a leading forum for exploring theoretical debates that address the ways concepts and categories of difference operate within culture. Across three issues published in 2020-21, in essays contributed by scholars from all over the world, the problematic of differences was explored in a wide range of contexts. The journal connects aspects of the Pembroke Center's scholarly, teaching, and research mission, and last year it published an issue guest-edited by Peter Szendy, convener of the 2020-21 Pembroke Seminar, that expanded the discussion of the central questions of the seminar and drew on work housed in the Pembroke Center Archives.

Cheryl A. Wall
The late Cheryl A. Wall, expert in African-American literature, American literature and feminist criticism.

Our broad network of scholars continued to contribute to and utilize the Pembroke Center Archives. In 2020-21, despite the challenges presented by limits on on-campus work, the Pembroke Center Archives added and processed a number of new collections, including, notably, the papers of the late Cheryl A. Wall. Wall was the Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers University, where she dedicated much of her almost 50-year career advocating for racial diversity in the curriculum and in universities as a whole. She pushed for the inclusion of Black authors in literature courses and established a requirement at Rutgers that all English majors complete a course in African American literature. Wall's daughter, Camara Epps, reached out to the Pembroke Center Archives shortly after her mother's passing in 2020, and staff worked to ensure that Wall's wishes about her papers were honored. Wall's papers are now available to researchers and the publics via the Feminist Theory Archive, where they are part of the community of collections given in the name of the Black Feminist Theory Project.

Individuals from all over the world and all walks of life shared their stories—about timely, sensitive topics including the impact of the pandemic on daily life, the 2020 protests against anti-Black racism, the rise in violence against Asian American and Pacific Islanders and more—with the Pembroke Center Oral History Project.

The Friends of the Pembroke Center were steadfast throughout the 2020-21 year, joining us for and participating in our virtual public programming. Pembroke Center Advisory Council Member Tanya Katerí Hernández ’86, P’20, the Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law, moderated our October 2020 event "Black Women and the Vote," which focused on Black women’s political engagement and activism, from suffrage to movements for racial and gender justice. Council member Marcia R. Ely ’80, director of programs at the Center for Brooklyn History, moderated our January 2021 panel “Complicating Beauty: A Look at How Women Look,” in which five distinguished Brown alumnae and faculty explored the idea of beauty: how and why it changes over time; the unique role of the beauty pageant; and the ways that society’s morphing definitions of “a beautiful woman” collide with race, class and gender.

The Friends of the Pembroke Center have supported the Pembroke Center's intellectual mission over the last four decades, and in 2021, Pembroke Center Advisory Council Member Shauna M. Stark '76 P'10 honored that collective effort and emphasized the importance of the center's work by making a historic gift: Stark established the Shauna McKee Stark ’76, P’10 Directorship of the Pembroke Center, endowing the leadership position and ensuring the Pembroke Center's permanence on campus.

Leadership Transition and New Endowment

Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg
Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg,  Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies, Chair of Italian Studies, and Director of the Pembroke Center from 2014-2021

In June 2021, Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg completed her second term as Pembroke Center director. During her tenure, the Pembroke Center’s postdoctoral fellowship program and research agenda sustained and developed their internationally renowned reputations, and the Pembroke Seminar functioned as a forum that, like differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, represents the leading edge in feminist critical studies. The Gender and Sexuality Studies program (GNSS), which equips undergraduate and graduate students across the University with the tools to examine the complex ways that “differences” are produced culturally, politically, and epistemologically, grew, and GNSS students demonstrated, through their excellent work, how they use GNSS to advance knowledge. Additional capacity at the Pembroke Center Archives helped it become a research destination for scholars from the U.S. and around the world, and the Pembroke Center’s public programming is recognized as contributing to both theoretical feminist discourse and public conversations about feminism and forms of difference.

Stewart-Steinberg had the great good fortune to bring her terms as director to a close knowing that the Pembroke Center would continue on newly stable footing thanks to the endowment gift made by Shauna M. Stark ’76, P’10 and she was delighted to welcome Leela Gandhi, John Hawkes Professor of Humanities and English at Brown, as the inaugural Shauna McKee Stark ’76, P’10 Director of the Pembroke Center.


2020-21 Pembroke Seminar: Narrating Debt

Peter Szendy
Peter Szendy

In 2020-21, the Chesler/Mallow Senior Faculty Fellow and convener of the Pembroke Seminar “Narrating Debt” was Peter Szendy, David Herlihy Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature at Brown.

Szendy led a vibrant group of scholars to explore the many ways of narrating—or witnessing—the condition of being indebted and the historical rise of indebtedness as a mode of governance. Paying attention to questions of difference and to the production of knowledge, Szendy encouraged the interdisciplinary group of seminar participants to examine what stories have been told about indebtedness, and what kind of gendered voices are found within various narratives of debt. The group also asked whether debt was not only the subject of stories, but a story unto itself, “a performative fiction that organizes time by linking past, present, and future,” as Szendy puts it.

Judith Butler
Judith Butler gave the virtual lecture "Debt, Guilt, Responsibility, Obligation."

To complement the seminar, Szendy invited scholars including Rosalind C. Morris, professor of anthropology at Columbia University, Michael Ralph, associate professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University and Judith Butler, the Maxine Elliot Professor Emer. in the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley, among others to discuss forms of debt in research lectures. Szendy clearly hit a nerve, as programming on this timely subject was of tremendous interest. News of Butler’s talk went viral, with over 900,000 people engaging with advertisements for it, and more than 3,000 attending the virtual lecture.

Michael Ralph lecture posterSzendy also extended the discussion of debt in the issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies that he guest-edited. That issue, “Narratives of Debt,” collects essays, a short story, and archival texts that explore how the condition of being indebted is narrated. The issue links to the Pembroke Center’s yearlong research and programming on debt, and to the Pembroke Center’s Feminist Theory Archive, which is the source of the selections from Italian-American scholar and activist Silvia Federici’s diaries. Those fragments were presented and contextualized by Federici scholar Arlen Austin, who just completed his PhD in the Department of Modern Culture and Media with a graduate certificate in gender and sexuality studies.

Read more about Narrating Debt here.

Leila M. Lehnen is chair of the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at Brown and president of the American Portuguese Studies Association. Born in Paris, she grew up in Brazil, Germany, and India and studied German literature at the Eberhard-Karls Universität, in Tübingen before earning degrees in comparative literature at the University of Washington and Vanderbilt University. Her research and teaching focuses on contemporary Brazilian and Latin American literature, with an emphasis on the intersection between social justice and cultural production.

Kristina Carmen Mendicino is an associate professor German studies at Brown, where she teaches courses on German literature with an emphasis on close readings as well as the intersections between literature and philosophy. She studied theater, German studies, classics, and comparative literature at the Eberhard Karls-Universität Tübingen, the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, and the Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main before completing her PhD in German Studies at Yale University in 2012. She joined the Brown faculty in 2013.

Sarah L. Thomas is the William A. Dyer, Jr. Assistant Professor of Humanities and an assistant professor of Hispanic studies. She works on contemporary fiction and film from Spain, with a secondary interest in Latin American cinema. Her research is especially concerned with cultural production emerging from (post)-dictatorship societies in the Spanish-speaking world and the representation of subjectivity, temporality, and space. Thomas joined Brown’s faculty in 2013, after receiving her PhD from New York University.

Amy Chin, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Brown, is a grad coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center. She holds a BS in Industrial Labor Relations from Cornell University and a MSc in Migration Studies from Oxford University. Before coming to Brown, she spent time working at National Domestic Workers Alliance in New York and later in the labor movement in Guangzhou. Amy leads the Feminist Pedagogy Series and plans self-care and mental health events at the Sarah Doyle Center. Most days she is trying to live life like it’s golden. Research Interests: US Empire and Militarism; Feminist Epistemology; Postcolonial Theory; Critical Ethnic and Race Studies; Asian American Identity; Memory and Trauma Studies; Oral History

Matthew Ellis is a PhD candidate in the department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, as well as a co-organizer of Magic Lantern Cinema based in Providence, RI. He previously worked as a musician based out of Portland, Oregon, and was an assistant at the Northwest Film Center as well as a film programmer at 5th Avenue Cinema. He holds undergraduate degrees in Film and English Literature from Portland State University. He is currently at work on a dissertation titled “The Return of History: Twenty-First Century Cinema at the 'End' of Neoliberalism.” Research Interests: Film theory and history, global art cinema, radio and television, the history of knowledge, periodization, Marxist historiography, Foucault and genealogy.

Deborah Frempong is a PhD student in the Anthropology Department. Her focus is on the historical and contemporary constructions of womanhood in Ghanaian Christian communities. She holds a masters degree in theological studies with a focus on religion, politics and ethics from Harvard Divinity School and obtained her BA in Public Policy and Politics from Pomona College. Research Interests: religion, gender, identity, race, transnationalism, immigration, Ghana. 

Kristen Maye graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in Afro-American Studies and History. Her research as a PhD candidate in the Department of Africana Studies at Brown engages political theory with questions at the intersection of New World slavery, neoliberal capitalism and gender. She is interested in probing the machinations of anti-Blackness in progressive civil society with a particular focus on the university. She investigates technologies of power that seek to produce blackness as nonhuman and violable, thus impacting possibilities for conceiving and enacting black freedom projects. Kristen spent the time between her undergraduate studies and her return to graduate school working in criminal justice and drug policy reform in New York City. In her spare time. she enjoys biking and beer.

Alessandro Moghrabi earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature at New York University in 2017 and an M.S. in Economics at Barcelona Graduate School of Economics in 2018. Now a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at Brown, Alessandro’s research interests include: irony, late medieval and 20th century Italian narrative and theater, renaissance French theater, 20th century French theory, Shakespearian comedy, poetics. Languages: Italian, French, English, Spanish, German (beginning)

Ricardo Gomez, English

Catherine (Cate) Turner, Comparative Literature

Supporting Student Research

Fall 2020

In the fall of 2020, the Pembroke Center awarded three grants to outstanding Brown students who explored questions of gender, difference, and power in the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States. One award-winning project takes a fresh look at a familiar psychological experiment’s origins in Trinidad, taking into account the impact of colonialism’s power dynamics on its findings, while another explores how contemporary constructions of womanhood in Ghanaian Christian communities affect perceptions of returnee women in its capital city. The third project uses community-engaged storytelling to intervene in the typical media portrayal of Syrian Muslim refugees in the United State as either objects of sensationalized suffering or political threats. 

Due to the protracted uncertainty regarding the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to maintain the health and safety of the Brown community through restrictions on all University-sponsored international and domestic travel, grants were awarded only to projects that could be completed locally.


The Pembroke Center awarded Steinhaus/Zisson Pembroke Center Research Grants to Brown graduate students Jenny Dolan, a PhD candidate in American studies, and Deborah Frempong, a PhD candidate in anthropology as well as a Graduate Student Fellow in the 2020-21 Pembroke Seminar “Narrating Debt.”

The grants, honoring Beatrice Bloomingdale Steinhaus’33, P’60, P’65, GP’87, GP’91 and Gertrude Rosenhirsch Zisson’30, P’61, P’63, GP’91, support undergraduate and graduate student research on any topic related to the work of the Pembroke Center. Preference is given to research on women’s education, health, community activism, philanthropy, and economic status, and women’s rights and well-being in the United States and in developing countries around the world. Graduate students are awarded up to $2,000 grants for their projects. 

Jenny Dolan
Jenny Dolan
Graduate Student, Department of American Studies
“Constructing Willpower: The Origins of the Marshmallow Experiment”

Jenny Dolan’s dissertation is a cultural history of willpower. Her project tracks the changing meanings and uses of willpower throughout the twentieth century U.S. and explores willpower’s relationship to gender, race, and middle-class formation. In the chapter “Constructing Willpower: The Origins of the Marshmallow Experiment,” Dolan asks: how did willpower become a scientific fact? Psychologists agree that the most famous willpower experiment—the marshmallow experiment conducted at Stanford University by Walter Mischel and his colleagues—inaugurated the modern study of self-control. Mischel, however, conducted his first willpower experiments on Black and East Indian children in Trinidad during the 1950s, so Trinidad ought to be considered the birthplace of scientific willpower. Analyzing the experimental protocols that enabled willpower to emerge as an object of empirical knowledge, Dolan argues that Mischel did not discover in Trinidad a universal feature of human cognition called willpower. Rather, willpower was crafted by and through empire and the unequal power relations of colonialism. 

Debbie Frempong
Deborah Frempong
Graduate student, Department of Anthropology

“Gendered Mobilities: Faith, Belonging and Spatial Geographies of Returnee Women in Accra”

Debbie Frempong’s project looks at returnee women’s modes of belonging through their reintegration experiences in Accra, Ghana, connecting questions about transnationalism, belonging, gendered subjectivities and Christianity. It asks: what do returnee women’s experiences reveal about gender, religion, and belonging in contemporary Ghana? And what is the significance of widely circulating discourses and representations that situate returnee women as figures of modernity? Consequently, it explores how the gendered politics of reintegration produces and mediates ideas of modernity and (post) colonial subjectivities. In doing so, it offers alternative ways to conceptualize the relationship between religion and belonging, looking at how social rupture, continuity and de-territorialism offers various opportunities for local and global forms of practice that coalesce, oppose or exist alongside each other. This project adds to these conceptualizations by highlighting the ways in which Accra’s religious landscape and returnee women’s cosmopolitan feminisms collide. By exploring these questions through the lens of belonging, it endeavors to show how returnee women create new communities and spatial geographies of care

The Pembroke Center awarded the Linda Pei Undergraduate Research Grant to Clare Boyle, a comparative literature concentrator. First awarded in 2008, the Linda Pei grant supports an undergraduate research project related to issues of women’s empowerment such as gender equality in the workplace, access to reproductive health care, and women’s political leadership. The grant offers up to $1000 for research support.

Clare Boyle
Clare Boyle ’20.5
Comparative Literature

“To Steal a Dream”

“To Steal a Dream” asks who gets to define identity, and what happens when how others see you isn’t how you see yourself. This project is an ongoing collaboration between Boyle and Providence high school student named Lina, whom Boyle met and worked with through the Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment program. Lina fled Syria with her family at age ten and lived in Jordan before being resettled in the United States. The project’s final form will be a multimedia website combining seven podcasts of Lina narrating her transnational journey with collages of her photos and memories from each place she has lived. “To Steal a Dream” constitutes a critical intervention into media representations which position young, female refugees, Muslim women in particular, as perpetual victims in need of saving. In creating the project, Boyle is building on research she undertook as an Undergraduate Fellow in the 2018-19 Pembroke Seminar “What Are (Human) Rights? Imperial Origins, Curatorial Practices and Non-Imperial Ground.”

Spring 2021

On topics ranging from marriage regulation and reproductive decision-making to post-emancipation realities on the ground, five undergraduate students and one newly minted PhD won Pembroke Center prizes and grants for their extraordinary research in the spring of 2021.

Lyle Cherneff
Lyle Cherneff '21

Lyle Cherneff ’21 won both the Ruth Simmons Prize in Gender and Women’s Studies and the Joan Wallach Scott Prize for an outstanding honors thesis in Gender and Sexuality Studies for “The Ties That Bind: Incest and Family-Making in the Postbellum South.” The thesis explores how the socially constructed idea of “home” as a safe place conflicts with the reality of nineteenth-century Southern households, which he identifies in his thesis as the locus of “an unprecedented explosion of domestic violence.” In the work, Lyle explores white patriarchy and incest, marriage regulation, the sexual and familial structure of the slave plantation, and miscegenation laws that persisted into the twentieth century.

In conferring both awards to the work, the prize committee commented, “Cherneff’s research advances our understanding of patriarchy, kinship, the roots of white supremacy, Southern jurisprudence, and intersubjective relations under slavery and in its aftermath through careful readings of case law, newspaper accounts, and letters. Discursive analysis of the figure of ‘home’ exposes its contradictory affective valences, the site at once of ideals of safety, security and privacy and of violence, confinement, and secrecy.”

It is very unusual for the Pembroke Center to give both prizes to the same thesis—in fact, this is the first time the Pembroke Center has done so. This speaks to the truly exceptional caliber of “The Ties That Bind: Incest and Family-Making in the Postbellum South.” While Lyle’s superlative thesis rose to the top this year, the judges were faced with an impossibly competitive pool of theses, and felt compelled to recognize the work of two additional undergraduate scholars whose theses they judged to be outstanding.

Gemma Sack
Gemma Sack ’21

Gemma Sack ’21 was granted honorable mention for the Ruth Simmons Prize for her thesis “Selling Mrs. Procreator: Eugenics, Homemaking, and American Nationalism in Women’s Magazines, 1929-1939.” Bringing together several discursive threads—including gender, race, reproduction, and consumption—in a project drawing on historical, theoretical, scholarly, and popular sources, this thesis examines the interconnections of eugenics, domesticity, and the fortification of the American way of life in mass-market women’s magazines of the 1930s. The mutually reinforcing politics of home and nation during the interwar period are clearly evident, the thesis argues, in popular magazines targeting women as the reproducers of a particular ideological form of the family. 

Cal Turner
Cal Turner '21
The thesis by Cal Turner ’21, “The Virtue of the Virago: Gender-Crossing Difference and the Social Life of the Early Modern Female Crossdresser” was awarded honorable mention for the Ruth Simmons Prize for its insightful analysis of two seventeenth-century literary accounts of female crossdressing, one from England and the other written in Spain. This thesis understands female crossdressing not as an instrumental act or a narrative device, but as a mode of relational and social being in the world. Reading the female crossdresser as a profoundly social figure who develops routes toward relationship through the mark of difference that crossdressing constitutes, this thesis finds present-day trans resonances in a historical lineage of counternarratives of gendered existential states.

Conor Jenkins
Connor Jenkins ’22

History and Africana studies concentrator Connor Jenkins ’22 was awarded the Barbara Anton Community Research Grant for his project “‘Fear gave speed to our steps’: Slavery’s Hauntings and the Long Lives of Plantation Geographies in Edenton, North Carolina from 1850 to 1880.” The grant supports undergraduate students doing an honors thesis involving community work related to the welfare of women and children. Describing his plan for this project, Connor said, “In 1861, Harriet Jacobs anonymously published her narrative about her escape from slavery. In the 1970s, historians located Jacobs’ enslavement in Edenton, North Carolina. To understand regional (mis-)remembering of slavery, I will map Edenton geographies and lineages pre-1865 and post-1865 through correspondence and newspapers. By interviewing Edentonians, I will investigate antebellum legacies in modern space and gender roles. This project simply asks: what changed in Edenton after emancipation? Much historiography considers slavery through geography and gender, yet local histories often omit these analytics. Calculated local forgetting of slavery undergirds spectacular insurrectionary activity and quotidian structural inequality, rendering this project urgent and timely."


Sabrina Bajwa
Sabrina Bajwa ’21.5
Sabrina Bajwa ’21.5, a gender and sexuality studies and Hispanic studies concentrator, won the Helen Terry MacLeod Research Grant for her project “Reproductive (In)justice in Detention.” Describing her project, Sabrina said, “In September 2020, whistleblower Dawn Wooten drew attention to allegations of forced hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Just two years prior, the Trump administration found itself embroiled in a legal battle as the Office of Refugee Resettlement denied pregnant minors’ access to abortion in detention. Through archival work, reviewing key court cases, and conducting interviews with current organizers, my research traces the historical incorporation of reproductive coercion within immigration politics to illuminate how these seemingly contradictory anti-birth and anti-abortion pushes exist simultaneously. In considering these examples in conversation, I highlight the creative efforts of activists in urging for a reproductive justice-based movement to dismantle the white supremacy underlying the convergence of reproductive coercion and anti-immigration politics.”

Whitney Arey
Whitney Arey

Dr. Whitney Arey, who completed her PhD in the Department of Anthropology at Brown this spring as well as a graduate certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies, won the Marie J. Langlois Dissertation Prize for “Abortion as Care: Affective and Biosocial Experiences of Abortion Access and Decision-Making.”  The Langlois Prize recognizes an outstanding dissertation in areas related to gender studies or feminist analysis, and confers a $1000 honorarium.

The dissertation, which is based on 18 months of ethnographic field research that Arey conducted in and around two abortion clinics in her home state of North Carolina, considers how the politicized space of the abortion clinic makes possible novel forms of care.

Describing her work, Arey says, “I argue that this politicization makes the formation of temporary biosocial relationships with strangers possible. I explore the role that family, friends, partners, healthcare workers, and anti-abortion protesters play in abortion access. I show how patients’ already constrained access abortion care is made possible by, and sometimes made more difficult by, their relationships with others.”

Arey conducted her ethnographic research during a time when North Carolina and a number of other states were passing numerous laws to restrict abortion access. Daniel Jordan Smith, professor of anthropology, Charles C. Tillinghast ’32 Professor of International Studies, and Arey’s dissertation advisor, described the dissertation as grounded in empirical observation and informed by cutting-edge theory. She created “a contextually-grounded account and a nuanced understanding of an issue about which conventional narratives provide simplistic, black-and-white interpretations,” Smith said.

Katherine A. Mason, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown and Arey’s mentor, concurred: “Whitney’s dissertation is a transformative account of abortion in the US that gets away from tired conversations about personal choice and personal responsibility, and instead shows us how abortion decisions, procedures, and recovery – as well as the meaning that people make of these experiences – are the results of complex negotiations between the pregnant person and a number of other parties.”

Arey, who is a 2020-21 Interdisciplinary Fellow at the Pembroke Center and was the head teaching assistant for the Gender and Sexuality Studies program course “Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies,” charted new territory by attending to the conversations that women considering an early, routine abortion have with their partners and with other family members and friends as they make the decision about whether to have an abortion or not, according to Smith, and her dissertation promises to make significant contributions to scholarship on the anthropology of reproduction, the anthropology of bioethics, and to broader humanistic studies of gender, ethics, kinship, and violence.

Gender and Sexuality Studies Program

The Gender and Sexuality Studies Program (GNSS), which is housed in the Pembroke Center and offers an undergraduate concentration and graduate certificate program, is the only place at Brown where students can examine the centrality of gender and sexuality in the distribution of power and resources in social, cultural, political, economic, and scientific/biomedical contexts.

2020-21 Gender and Sexuality Studies Courses

As part of Brown’s effort to keep the University community safe and de-densify campus, the 2020-21 academic year included a summer semester. In addition to offering five Gender and Sexuality Studies program (GNSS) courses in the fall and five in the spring, the Pembroke Center offered two GNSS courses over the summer.

Fall 2020 Courses

GNSS 2010N
The Pembroke Seminar “Narrating Debt” investigated forms of treating debt – in history, law, literature, psychoanalysis and more – as fundamentally tied to narrativity, or the possibility of narration.

GNSS 1711
“Speech and Silence, Trust, Rage and Fear: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Intimacy” examines intimate relationships: problems that arise from failures of couples to speak to each other, when instead of silence, they fail to speak openly, honestly, from a position of equality-particularly about their feelings, needs and desires.

GNSS 1961Q
“Conversations in Trans/Feminisms: Theories, Cultures, & Politics” explores the bridges and tensions between trans* and feminist movements through academic & activist literature/cultural production.

GNSS 1990
Senior Seminar, a research seminar focusing on the research and writing of the participants. Required of senior concentrators; open to other advanced students by permission.

GNSS 2000
“Method, Evidence, Critique: Gender and Sexuality Studies across the Disciplines” starts with the premise that studies in gender and sexuality are tied together by critique that questions foundational assumptions and takes account of its own position within a given field of knowledge. By studying canonical theoretical texts alongside disciplinary studies characterized by a feminist and/or queer focus, the course enables students to investigate how critique operates and how standards of evidence are marshaled in particular disciplines.

Spring 2021 Courses

GNSS 2010N
The Pembroke Seminar “Narrating Debt," a yearlong course, continued into the spring.

GNSS 0090C
“Reproductive Health: Science and Politics” offers an introduction to the interpretation of medical literature on reproductive health issues and explored scientific, political, religious and cultural aspects of these important public policy issues.

GNSS 0120
“Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies” explores the interdisciplinary fields of Gender and Sexuality Studies, considering the relation between formations of gender and those of sexuality across a range of historical and disciplinary contexts. Considers how both sexuality and gender are shaped in relation to race and ethnicity, economic inequality, and the postcolonial legacy.

GNSS 1961R
“Sex and Money: The History of Paris since 1750” examines how sexual commerce shaped the identity of the Paris, how the commercial spaces of the city shaped sexual identities, and how discourses about sexuality contributed to the legitimation of capitalism. 

GNSS 1961S
“Boom Towns: Finance and Literature in Latin America” explores the implications of using the financial metaphor of “Boom Town” to refer to the cultural production of the Latin American region since the nineteenth century.

Summer 2021 Courses

GNSS 1101
“A Gender Perspective on Women and Enterprise,” lays bare the mechanisms driving a pattern of economic inequality affecting the female population of every nation.

GNSS 1070
“On Both Sides of the Lens: Latin American Women Filmmakers,” surveys how women filmmakers are employing and changing documentary and feature film genres in Latin America.


GNSS concentrators graduated in 2021, 3 with Honors


PhD candidates in 12 disciplines pursued the GNSS graduate certificate in 2020-21


Students from across the University enrolled in GNSS courses in 2020-21


GNSS courses were offered in the fall, spring and summer of 2020-21

​​​​​​Gender and Sexuality Studies Graduate Certificate Program Outcomes

Three students in the Pembroke Center's ​​​​​​Gender and Sexuality Studies Graduate Certificate Program earned their PhDs in spring 2021, and all were awarded postdoctoral fellowships for the 2021-22 academic year!

  • Claire Grandy (PhD English, graduate certificate GNSS, editorial proctor for differences) is a Deans' Faculty Fellow in Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Chris Lee (PhD English, graduate certificate GNSS) is a Deans' Faculty Fellow in English
  • Arey Whitney (anthropology, graduate certificate GNSS and winner of the 2021 Marie J. Langlois Dissertation Prize) is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin

Pembroke Center Archives

In 2020-21, the Pembroke Center Archives added new collections of great research value, further advanced its fruitful partnership with the John Hay Library, provided unique opportunities to and support for students, and was instrumental in developing the curatorial mission of the Black Feminist Theory Project. Through the Pembroke Center Oral History Project, the Pembroke Center Archives documented history in real time by collecting first-person accounts from contributors who spoke about their experiences coping with the pandemic, their experiences with racism, protests, social justice movements and politics, and much more.

Led by the Nancy L. Buc ’65 Pembroke Center Archivist Mary Murphy and Assistant Archivist Amanda Knox, the Pembroke Center Archives grew in size and stature over the past year.

Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and remote working conditions, the Pembroke Center Archives added 13 archival and addenda collections, including the papers of Cheryl A. Wall and Hazel V. Carby. Wall was a scholar who widened the scope of literary scholarship to include Black novelists, poets and nonfiction authors as well as essayists, whom she considered central to the Black literary tradition. Carby is considered a pioneer in Black feminism and is also known as one of the world's leading scholars on race, gender, and African-American issues. Both of these collections are of tremendous interest to scholars, and enlarge the community of collections by Black feminist scholars that comprise the curatorial arm of the Pembroke Center’s Black Feminist Theory Project.

New collections and addenda:

Feminist Theory Archive

Lauren Berlant papers (addenda)

Ellen Chesler papers (new collection)

Miriam Cooke papers (addenda)

Sandra G. Harding papers (addenda)

Virginia Held papers (addenda)

Florence Howe papers (partially pre-processed from the Hay)

Alison M. Jaggar papers (new collection)

Coppelia Kahn papers (addenda)

Louise Lamphere papers (addenda)

Felicity Nussbaum papers (new collection)

Elaine Showalter papers (new collection)

Cheryl A. Wall papers (new collection!)


Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive

Margaret Ellickson Senturia papers (new collection)


A longtime collaboration with Ann duCille, professor of English, Emerita at Wesleyan University and a visiting scholar in gender studies at the Pembroke Center, along with years of work nurturing relationships with scholars and the focused efforts of Summer Graduate Curatorial Proctors, has pushed the curatorial mission of the Black Feminist Theory Project forward, enabling the Pembroke Center Archives to preserve the legacy of these important scholars. The proctors, archives staff, and duCille work closely with scholars through every step of the process, from first discussions to collecting trips, all the way through making the collections available to researchers eager to learn from this rich field of scholarship.

See the Black Feminist Theory Collections.

Pembroke Center Archives proctorships provide apprenticeship-style training in archival curation, supporting student research and broadening their professional opportunities. Murphy worked with both Pembroke Center Graduate Curatorial Proctors for the BFTP and with the John Hay Library Research Fellowship program. She sat on the Hay Library’s spring selection committee and then served as a mentor for one of the awardees, Lillian Pickett '22, who used the fellowship to conduct research for her senior thesis that is examining the relationship between late 20th century women's groups in Rhode Island and the carceral state.

The Pembroke Center Archives’ collaborative relationship with the Hay Library is critical in helping to inform the Hay's collection development policy; tapping into the library’s purchasing power; caring for Pembroke Center Archives collections; and familiarizing library staff about Pembroke Center Archives collections so that they can promote them to their researchers and use them in the classes they teach.

The Pembroke Center Archives also leads instructional sessions with Brown students, helping undergraduate and graduate students learn about the incredible resources within the archives, and boosting their understanding of the archives and archival curation.

Between July 2020 and June 2021, archives staff recorded 24 oral histories and made 32 oral histories available to stream online. These include histories related to COVID-19, ongoing racial justice protests, anti-Asian racism, and much more. A highlight was the oral history Assistant Archivist Amanda Knox conducted with NASA astronaut Jessica U. Meir, class of 1999. Amanda worked with Jessica and her team to schedule the interview, learning the fun fact that gmail reaches outer space! Meir was generous with her time and shared great memories of both her time at Brown and her work with NASA.

From the Pembroke Center Oral History Project:

“…I think in looking at this achievement in this historical milestone, I hope that it’s those generations that came before us that are truly the ones to revel in it, to enjoy it, and to be proud of that moment because it’s their work that got us there, you know, those early generations at Pembroke, for example, that were the pioneers and the forerunners…”

Jessica Meir ’99 NASA Astronaut, completed first all-woman spacewalk in October 2019
Jessica Meir '99

differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies

differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies is supported by and located within the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. Published three times a year and enjoying an international readership, the journal is a critical forum where the problematic of differences is explored in texts ranging from the literary and the visual to the political and social. In 2020-21, the issues of differences included one open issue and two guest-edited issues, including "Narratives of Debt," which engaged with the central questions and themes of the 2020-21 Pembroke Seminar "Narrating Debt." The issue was edited by Peter Szendy, David Herlihy Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature at Brown and convener of the 2020-21 seminar.

Volume 31, Issue 2
1 September 2020

Cover of Volume 31, Issue 2 of differencesIn this open issue, five essays explore subjects including the concept of belatedness in Sigmund Freud’s last major work; how Jacques Derrida’s concept of “autothanatography” can be used to understand how composer Claude Vivier inscribed a relationship to death in his works; how Wilhelm Worringer’s aesthetics of nonrepresentational art solves in advance some key problems that Freud had in accounting for the modernism of his day; how Freud’s research on the anal-sadistic stage of infantile sexuality resonates with Roger Casement’s sexual practices in Peru while he investigated a colonial rubber enterprise for its gruesomely violent punitive practices against colonized peoples; and what queer sexual habits and gendered forms of desire take shape along the Jerusalem light rail, a route whose role in normalizing Israeli occupation and colonialism has been hotly contested during its construction and since its opening in 2011. 

Volume 31, Issue 3
1 December 2020

Narratives of Debt

Cover of Volume 31, Issue 3 of differencesThis issue, guest-edited by Peter Szendy, David Herlihy Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature at Brown and convener of the 2020-21 Pembroke Seminar “Narrating Debt,” collects essays, a short story, and archival texts that explore how the condition of being indebted is witnessed and narrated, and how debt itself is a narrative.

The connection between debt and narrative form, and the historical rise of indebtedness as a mode of governance, were at the heart of both the 2020-21 Pembroke Seminar and of the 2019 conference he co-organized, Narratives of Debt, which gathered together the key thinkers in contemporary critical theory counted among the issue’s contributors.

The issue links to the Pembroke Center’s yearlong research and programming on debt, and to the Pembroke Center’s Feminist Theory Archive, which is the source of the selections from Italian-American scholar and activist Silvia Federicis diaries. Those fragments were presented and contextualized by Federici scholar Arlen Austin, who is completed his PhD in the Department of Modern Culture and Media in 2021 with a graduate certificate in gender and sexuality studies.

Editor’s Note 

Peter Szendy


Infinance, or Narration and Solvency 

Peter Szendy


Earning to Give 

Catherine Malabou


Life after Debt 

Arjun Appadurai


The Debt Chronotope 

Frederik Tygstrup


And Suddenly I Owed Nothing/Je ne devais plus rien 

Vincent Message; Cole Swensen


The Debt Narrative and the Credit Crunch of Democracy 

Emmanuel Bouju


The Utopia of Bankruptcy 

Raphaëlle Guidée


William Gaddis’s J R and the Many Faces of Junk Bonds 

Mikkel Krause Frantzen


Nigerian Writings (Fragments) 

Silvia Federici; Arlen Austin


How Much Is Your African Slave Worth? 

Anthony Bogues


Narrative and Strategy in Sovereign Debt 

Odette Lienau

Volume 32, Issue 1
1 May 2021

The Undead in Literary Theory

Cover of Volume 32, Issue 1 of differencesThis issue, guest-edited by Miglena Nikolchina, returns to the question of the distinction of theory raised by editors Ellen Rooney and Elizabeth Weed in a 2010 differences issue. Rooney and Weed addressed “the question of theory” by exploring “the distinction, in this theoretical moment, between what is and what is not theory.” The Undead in Literary Theory takes as its point of departure Galin Tihanov’s recent book The Birth and Death of Literary Theory: Regimes of Relevance in Russia and Beyond. It includes essays that evolved out of a series of discussions about the book by an informal group–the Sofia Literary Theory Seminar–as well as Galin Tihanov’s response, which reiterates some of the major claims of his book and introduces additional arguments and material.

Black Feminist Theory Project

Envisioned as a site of intellectual collaboration across disciplines, the Black Feminist Theory Project aims to enhance the visibility and accessibility of Black feminist discourse on campus, in the archives, and beyond. The project also calls attention to ongoing activism and interventions at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and public policy. 

Three main components constitute the Black Feminist Theory Project: rotating Distinguished Professorships/Affiliated Scholars in Residence at the Pembroke Center, a lecture series, and a growing community of archival collections by notable Black theorists. These are preserved and made accessible to researchers and members of the public via a partnership with Brown's John Hay Library.

Black Feminist Theory Project Scholars

The Black Feminist Theory Project hosts distinguished professorships, affiliated scholars, and graduate fellows in residence at the Pembroke Center.

Black Feminist Theory Project Lectures

Envisioned as a site of intellectual collaboration across disciplines, the Black Feminist Theory Project hosts lectures and events featuring scholars and researchers of Black studies.

Black Feminist Theory Project Collections

The Black Feminist Theory Collections comprise the archival papers of notable Black feminist scholars as part of the Pembroke Center's Feminist Theory Archive.

Friends of the Pembroke Center

Since its founding, the Pembroke Center has enjoyed and been strengthened by the advice, support, and engagement of its broad and dedicated community of alumnae/i and friends. The many ways this community participates in the work of the Center have enhanced our ability to carry out our intellectual mission and public humanities programming, and to enlarge conversations about gender and difference in a way that trains a keen eye on the historical record while opening up possibilities for the future.

The support of the Friends of the Pembroke Center manifests every day in classrooms, conversations and research projects, in public programming and broader conversations, in the archives, and the publications that Pembroke Center scholars produce. The Pembroke Center is very grateful to the Friends of the Pembroke Center, and honored by the establishment of the endowed Shauna M. Stark '76, P'10 Pembroke Center Directorship. As Brown University President Christina H. Paxson said, “The Pembroke Center brings together people from across disciplines to engage with ideas that are important to the world and demand diverse perspectives. By making this profound investment, Shauna Stark underscores the importance of research and teaching on women’s history and feminist scholarship, and enables the center to grow and build on its initiatives that serve students, scholars and the public.”

“I got to know this expansive group of diverse women – generationally, ethnically, and professionally diverse – who work together so beautifully, with so much respect for one another’s views. You don’t always have that level of diversity and collegiality, but everything starts from the top. Suzanne [Stewart-Steinberg] has been really good at fostering that, and this directorship is a tribute to Suzanne’s leadership and to this amazing group of Council members and others who have worked on behalf of the Pembroke Center for so long.”

Shauna M. Stark ’76 P’10 Pembroke Center Advisory Council member
Shauna M. Stark  ’76 P’10

Anne Buehl ’88, Chair

Sophie Waskow Rifkin ’07, Vice-Chair



Pamela Arya ’84, P’18

Bernicestine McLeod Bailey ’68, P’99, ’03 

Emily Coe-Sullivan ’99

Marcia R. Ely ’80

Johanna Fernandez ’93 

Yvonne P. Goldsberry ’82

Ryan G. W. Grubbs ’10

Tanya K. Hernández ’86, P’20

Ulle Holt ’66, AM’92, PhD’00, P’93, ’02

Ellen Hunter ’04

Barbara Dugan Johnson ’83, P’16

Carol M. Lemlein ’67, P’90

Joan Hoost McMaster ’60 

Leslie Newman ’75 AM’75, P’08, ’12

Lorine Pendleton ’91

Gwenn Masterman Snider ’83, P’13

Leah Sprague ’66

Shauna M. Stark ’76, P’10 

Irene Sudac ’81, P ’17

Judith Surkis ’92

Leora Tanenbaum ’91 

Kimberly Wachtler ’13

Donna Zaccaro ’83, P’19


Ex Officio

Nancy L. Buc ’65

Joan MacLeod Heminway ’83

Jean Howard ’70

Susan Adler Kaplan ’58 MAT’65

Anne Jones Mills ’60

Diane Lake Northrop ’54, P’81, GP’13, ’16

Chelsey C. Remington ’61, P’89, ’92

Eileen Rudden ’72, P’03, P’07, ’11

Phyllis K. Santry ’66

Elizabeth Munves Sherman ’77, P’06, ’09

Anita Spivey ’74, P’09

Mary A. Vascellaro ’74, P’07

Jasmine Waddell ’99 

Victoria Westhead ’83, P’17, ’19

Beverly H. Zweiman ’66, P’01


All of us in Pembroke Center were deeply saddened by the loss of two members of our community in the past year: Chelsey C. Remington ’61, P’89, ’92, and Susan Adler Kaplan ’58 MAT’65.

See the 2021-2022 membership here.

A note on nomenclature

In January 2021, the Pembroke Center announced two related name changes that we believe more accurately describe our community: the Pembroke Center Associates, who support the Center’s mission by making annual gifts to the Pembroke Center, are now known as Friends of the Pembroke Center, and the Pembroke Center Associates Council is known as the Pembroke Center Advisory Council. These changes reflect the inclusiveness of our community and to dispel any confusion arising from the terms “Associate” or “membership.” The Pembroke Center is open to all, and greatly strengthened by all of the Friends who have shown and continue to show their support for our work.

We thank the members of the Nomenclature Committee, who began work on questions regarding the Pembroke Center’s membership and fundraising terminology in 2019, and whose recommendations were put into place in 2021. We are grateful to Committee Chair Leora Tanenbaum ’91, Emily Coe-Sullivan ’99, Barbara Dugan Johnson ’83, Marcia Ely ’80, Yvonne Goldsberry ’82, Ulle Holt ’66, Sophie Waskow Rifkin ’07, Victoria Westhead ’83, and Donna Zaccaro ’83 for their work.

2020-21 Events