- “Bristling with the Desire to Confront Injustice”: Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy’s Queer Contributions to Transnational Feminism
In this tribute, we want to honor Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy’s contributions to a subfield to which she is rarely, if ever, explicitly connected: transnational feminism. Considering her extensive, and ongoing, contributions to the creation and institutionalization of women’s studies and LGBTQ history, it makes sense that her contributions to these fields are recognized.1 However, as we thought through what forms of scholarship are enabled by more than four decades of passionate, interdisciplinary work by this dynamic activist for social justice, we kept returning to Kennedy’s adeptness at thinking in a transnational frame and its contributions to our own feminist, queer activist scholarship. Our sense is that this talent comes from Kennedy’s training in social anthropology and her fieldwork in the mid-1960s in the Chocó rainforest of Colombia, as much as from her subsequent research in New York and participation in social movements like women’s liberation and various anti-war movements. We want to open a discussion about how Kennedy’s interdisciplinary career, situated between American studies and women’s studies, set precedents for much of the anti-imperialist transnational feminist scholarship that has emerged in the last twenty years.
Our tribute begins with an introduction to our individual relationships with Kennedy. We then provide an account of Kennedy’s work as central to the development of women’s studies within academe, laying a foundation from which transnational feminisms could emerge. We then explore the roots of Kennedy’s anti-imperialist scholarship and consider the ways in which this was infused in her scholarship and vision for women’s studies. Finally, we honor [End Page 101] the ways that she has queerly cultivated transnational feminist scholarship in younger generations of scholars.
Kennedy was the first professor to reach out to me in graduate school and she has remained one of the most important influences in my academic career. On orientation day for the MA program in women’s studies at the University of Arizona, Kennedy approached me to introduce herself and ask me about my research interests in queer Haiti and its diaspora. She mentioned that she was reading the recently published book Anna Julia Cooper, Visionary Black Feminist: A Critical Reader (2007) by Vivian M. May, which speaks to the influence of revolutionary Haiti on Cooper’s articulation of a feminist, anti-imperialist activism. She said that I certainly must be interested in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) activism to end the U.S. occupation in Haiti, including an interracial delegation of feminists to observe conditions on the ground and their resulting findings and recommendations published in Occupied Haiti (Greene Balch 1927). At the time, I had not yet been exposed to feminist histories of Haiti. When I told Kennedy as much, she did not hesitate to loan me the book about Anna Julia Cooper, which I read before any of the assigned texts that semester in Feminist Theories and Queer Theories. I often think about that day because it has had a long-term impact on the way that I approach my research, although I never would have guessed that five years later, Kennedy and I would be having similar conversations about Cooper and WILPF as I shape a feminist doctoral dissertation about anti-imperialisms in the context of Haiti.
There was, however, more magic in that moment than its influence on my research, because it hints at many of the qualities that I respect about my mentor. As I learned through participating in events in recent years honoring Kennedy’s retirement, she has always been one of the first professors to reach out to incoming students in the department. She intentionally forges connections, and for some of us—especially those who are first-generation, working class, people of color, and/or international—that practice has been life-changing. This kind of connection makes all the difference in the hostile climate of academe. Another noteworthy part of the conversation is the themes that arose in the space of only...