Challenging for Change

Students plan 8th annual Conference on Gender and International Affairs

Fletcher students have always been eager to lead.  

This is particularly true of this year’s Conference on Gender and International Affairs co-chairs, Rohini Roy (MALD 23) and Christine Munson (MALD 23). Both students were ready to get involved from day one at Fletcher. Since she was 16, Roy knew she wanted to attend Fletcher, learning about the MALD program from Shashi Tharoor, an Indian politician and MALD alum she’d looked up to. The program stood out to Roy for its Gender and Intersectional Analysis field of study. Munson learned about CGIA from a MALD alum during a semester abroad in Thailand as an undergraduate. The summer before she came to Fletcher, she messaged the CGIA team saying she wanted to volunteer.

Fundamentally, both were drawn to the conference because of the incisive conversations that it inspires.

“The kinds of conversations at CGIA were ones I didn’t see a lot of other places,” says Munson. “Gender intersects with everything, but with international relations and the topics at Fletcher—these were conversations that I was really interested in and wanted to hear more of, and it seemed like Fletcher and this conference were pioneering a lot of that and making gender a key consideration in these topics.”

Student-run, the conference is a significant undertaking to plan. Since being named co-chairs in April, Roy and Munson have helmed a committee of eleven peers, leading fundamentally from the values at the conference’s core: kindness, care, and intentionality.

They’ve affirmed a commitment to these values at every level: offering childcare vouchers to panelists, working with women- and minority-owned small businesses, and fostering a culture within the committee that is supportive and understanding, which has been crucial considering the 200 messages streaming back and forth over WhatsApp in half an hour, or the Saturday afternoons they sacrificed all summer for planning calls over Zoom.

“Even though what’s going to be at the forefront of the conference are the events, panels, and workshops, every single aspect of the conference has been carefully curated by this team of incredible individuals,” says Roy. The team gives true meaning to walking the walk.

At the heart of their efforts is their goal to broaden the tent of speakers and attendees. This intentionality guided them to welcome speakers to present as their authentic selves during the conference. Recognizing the perspectives that are not represented, an empty seat will sit on stage for each panel. They’ve also understood that more people need to see themselves as stakeholders in conversations on gender, and the team collected videos from male colleagues.

“The gender conference has embodied the spirit of something I think about very often: what is academia, what is considered worthy enough to be a part of academia, and what isn’t, what’s left outside the gates of academia and why, and that’s really revealing of the power asymmetry that exists within our world,” says Roy. “For me, as someone who is a brown woman, it’s very important to see that there is space for me to be myself.”

Roy and Munson are particularly excited for talks by Kim Janey, former acting mayor of Boston, and KaMani Sutra, a South Asian (teluGAY) genderqueer drag queen. Janey will lead the closing plenary session, “Happiness is Your Resistance,” a concept particularly resonant with Munson and her principles as a leader. Sutra’s talk embodies what Roy sees as the mission of the conference: leveraging Fletcher’s platform to open new spaces in academia.

“The show that KaMani is curating for us talks about their experience of finding their femininity through the process of migrating from India to the US. These are academic concepts we’re talking about: we’re talking about sexuality studies, migration, about these things that we discuss in our classrooms in Fletcher. This is such a unique and cool way to say the same thing in a way that really captivates the audience and gets them more interested.”

The conference promises to be a high-water mark this semester, and the co-chairs appreciate Fletcher’s unique commitment to upholding such discourse.

“I know of very few institutions that would be happy to give their students such freedom and be so supportive when students are discussing issues that are quite frankly very controversial and sensitive,” says Roy. “The fact that we have the Fletcher platform enables us to reach out to people who are now part of the conference. I don’t think that’s something we could do at any other school.” 

“Gender is relevant in all conversations. I just really hope that’s something that comes through,” says Munson. “This should be something that’s at the forefront of people’s minds no matter what sector you’re going into, no matter what specific thing you’re studying. Gender has a real impact.”

Learn more about the Conference on Gender and International Affairs here.