BCRW @ 50

Black Feminisms

Founded in 1971, what was then the Barnard College Women’s Center, grew out of a period of deep political upheaval. The College had just enrolled its largest number of Black students, the Barnard Organization for Soul Sisters was now three years old, and ‘68’s protests were still fresh in the memories of most; all around campus, both inside and out, the demands for radical institutional change were becoming impossible to dismiss. As a gathering center for research on women–the first of its kind–BCRW was an opportune space for Black feminists to think, teach, learn and write about what a Black feminist theory and praxis might look like. And yet, the center’s focus on middle-class white womanhood in its earlier years sidelined poor and BIPOC students; though it held conferences featuring prominent Black thinkers, for example, the center was still a point of contention for projecting an image of diversity that did not reflect the organizational body as a whole. That said, however, it is difficult to write a history of BCRW without writing, to some extent, a history of Black feminisms, and a history of Black feminisms cannot be written without referring to the concentrated efforts of Black students, prison abolitionists, writers, and activists. Though the archive wanes after the turn of the 21st century, history shows us that the times we are in are no less inspired than those of Quandra Prettyman or Audre Lorde. The imprint of these times and people is indelible and their legacy lives on through the center today.

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