PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science
Malia Bowers is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her dissertation is titled The Space Between: Rethinking Paradox in Contemporary Feminism, and her research focuses on feminist theory and activist politics. She is a 2019-2020 Franke Fellow at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities. Malia has been the Assistant Chair at Shepard Residential College through the Office of Residential Academic Initiatives since fall 2018. She also served as the Interim Assistant Chair at the Women's Residential College at Hobart House during winter and spring term this year.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I study how contemporary feminist activists respond to the complex political moment we find ourselves in, a moment marked by the apparent contradiction between large-scale feminist success yet ongoing and pervasive sexism, sexist exploitation, and the oppression of women and femmes. In other words, despite the successes that feminist movements have had—including international and national legislation protecting women, the widespread institutionalization of women and gender studies in universities, and increased public reach and visibility—women and femmes throughout the world, especially those of color, continue to experience violence.
My research suggests that practices of political writing, including hashtagged posts, black feminist creative scholarship, and feminist memoirs, operate in this space of contradiction—the space between success and failure, theory and practice, de jure and de facto. Engaging the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, Patricia Williams, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Gayatri Spivak, and Hannah Arendt, I trace accounts of “spaces between” to argue that contemporary feminist writing, in its various forms, has the potential to transform these spaces in liberatory ways.
What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?
Early in my time at Northwestern, I thought that I needed to fit myself into the mold of a traditional political theorist or academic to be successful in my program and in my career. I eventually realized that this approach was unsustainable, perhaps even harmful. By centering my own interests and strengths, I made a path for myself that allows me to do the work I care about most, both in my research and with undergraduates. I think we all do better work, whether academic or otherwise, when we bring our whole, authentic selves to the table.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I love going hiking with my partner and our dog, Ember. I enjoy seeing plays and musicals, trying new Thai restaurants, reading YA novels, and baking. After the longest days, though, all I really want to do is call my mom!
What books are on your bedside table?
I am currently re-reading Know My Name by Chanel Miller. I cannot recommend this book enough: it is a devastating, vulnerable, beautifully written work that will inevitably change anyone who reads it.
What inspires you?
I am consistently inspired by the feminists I study, write about, and work alongside. I was inspired last year doing fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where I met activists and academics stirring up all kinds of good trouble, laboring together to imagine and build a more just world. Before that, I was inspired in the archive of Gloria Anzaldúa’s personal papers, where I held page after page of handwritten notes on the revolutionary potential of writing one’s own story. I am inspired daily at Northwestern, where antiracist feminist students, professors, and administrators are working to dismantle hierarchies and promote equity, inclusion, and access for historically marginalized individuals and communities.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Graduate school can be isolating, especially if your interests are interdisciplinary, outside your field's canon, or alt-ac. Finding your people is so crucial! Get involved early and often with groups that bring together people who can support you in the work you want to do. I am very grateful to have found friends, mentors, and colleagues with similar investments through the residential colleges, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Cluster, the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN) reading group, and the Kaplan Institute.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
During spring quarter, I taught a first-year seminar entitled "Body Politics and Feminist Theory" as part of my Franke Fellowship through the Kaplan Institute. The seminar explored how—and why—feminist theorists and activists have centered the body in political thought and action. I planned the class with a view toward bringing theory and practice together: robust theory informing practice, real practice grounding theory. It was such a privilege to get to read and discuss some of my favorite texts with such a dedicated, thoughtful group of students.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I am most proud of the work I have been able to do supporting undergraduate students at Northwestern, both in and out of the classroom. As a TA and instructor, I prioritize well-being and growth as markers of student success. I feel that I have been successful in this when students seek me out for support, even after our class has concluded. As the Assistant Chair at Shepard Residential College and interim Assistant Chair at the Women’s Residential College, I have even more opportunities to invest in students. It has been beyond rewarding to advise and mentor my fabulous residents in an ongoing effort to build dynamic, inclusive communities. I am particularly proud of the programming I have implemented to support and develop the student leaders serving on executive boards.
Published: June 23, 2020
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