The National Women’s Studies Association national conference and the American Society for Engineering Education national conference are back to back – I’m at NWSA now, and ASEE is next week.* While I want to blog about suggestions for how to work conferences, my morning of wandering ’round the conference center for NWSA has raised some stark differences between these conferences for me.

Here are a couple that are occurring to me:


  1. Sponsored by defense contractors like Northrup Grumman
  2. Everyone wears business clothes
  3. Empty women’s bathrooms
  4. No mention of labour unions
  5. Evenings unprogrammed except for banquets (which cost a lot)
  6. Registration fees of $475 for regular members
  7. Exposition composed of computer software makers, engineering textbook makers, engineering education programs, and employers
  8. Lots of men and a few women
  9. Concurrent sessions structured by engineering divisions


  1. Sponsored by feminist organizations like Women Make Films and Ms
  2. Lots of skirts and flowing scarves and impressive tattoos
  3. Gender-neutral bathrooms
  4. Hotels and bags staffed/made by unionized workers
  5. Films and concerts played in the evening
  6. Registration fees based on annual income, ranging from $115-175 for regular members
  7. Exposition composed of artists, authors, activist groups, and book companies.
  8. Lots of people who identify as queer rather than as men or women
  9. Sessions that include creative writing, performance art, as well as critical theory and

Going to NWSA is a good reminder for me that there are different ways of having conferences than just the way ASEE does it.

What are your conferences like in terms of structure and character?
* Although I confess I’m not going this year – three conferences in a row is too much for me…


  1. #1 Carrie
    June 19, 2008

    The last conference I attended had about 300 attendees. There were 7 women (I counted). While that’s the worst ratio I’ve ever encountered, the average is about 20%.

    Anyway, business attire, some in military uniform, concurrent sessions structured around topic areas, and one expensive formal evening banquet with the rest of the evenings ‘open’.

  2. #2 Veronica
    June 19, 2008


    I was scheduled to be at NWSA so have some fun for me. And your description is spot on. The last con I was at was super small with at most 100 people and the one before that was about 600. The next conference for me should be the NACADA conference which is a MEGA conference.

  3. #3 Rock Doctor
    June 22, 2008

    Geology conferences have improved immensely since I first attended 6 yrs ago. There are women in *gasp* skirts and there are even more minorities, which is a welcome change. GSA used to be pretty pastey white.
    But, it is still not peace, love, flowers and I think if I said I was bi- most people would freak out. Nevertheless, going to GSA last year gave me a lot of hope that geology is changing and that there is a place for me in the field and that is a great thing!

  4. #4 Zuska
    June 26, 2008

    I’ll never forget my first WEPAN conference – all those women! Talkin’ engineering stuff! It was so fabulous! So relaxing, so comfy, it felt so much like home.

    Then one year WEPAN held a joint conference with NAMEPA and all of a sudden I saw what I didn’t see before, which is that WEPAN, while rich in women, was rich in mostly white women. That joint conference was the first – and only – conference I’ve ever been to where people from underrepresented minority groups weren’t just a handful sprinkled about the room. It was stunning. And I will frankly admit I felt less comfortable than I did in the mostly white settings I was accustomed to, which gave me one small tiny glimpse at what it must be like to be a person of color at predominantly white conference gatherings (or any setting, really).

    Other than that…everything you say about the differences in dress and so on holds between WEPAN conferences and the tech conferences I was used to attending. At those, I felt I had to be “on” the whole time, while at WEPAN, I felt I could be myself the whole time. Recently I read in the Chronicle about a conference organized by/for black women in philosophy and I thought, so cool, they’ve created a place where they can feel like themselves the whole time. That’s good.

  5. #5 Zuska
    June 26, 2008

    For clarification: I struggled to get past that discomfort I had at the joint conference and realize that it was still a place where I could be me…and where I could learn some new things and make new friends.

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