English and Philosophy double major Kenna Neitch '14 is featured in the upcoming double issue of Feminist Studies: Indigenous Feminism in Setter Contexts. Now pursuing a doctorate in English at Texas Tech University, her research focuses on the testimony and organization of Central American women during revolutions throughout the last 40 years.
Her dissertation works through feminist theory, bringing testimony and information about how the women of Central America organized. It also looks at how the women are using digital or social media platforms to mobilize their efforts.
"These women are doing incredibly important policy and social work, and I'm invested in the language scholars are using and the research we're doing to represent and advocate for and with them," Neitch said.
The special double issue on indigenous feminists came about after one of the editors saw a need to spotlight this area by dedicating an issue completely devoted to research and artwork. Neitch’s dissertation looks specifically at Encuentros—forums held during post-war years where women met to discuss their platforms and different or better ways to organize.
According to the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Encuentros meetings began more than 35 years ago. Their historical relevance for feminist movements in Latin America and for the international feminist movements has been very important to scholars in these areas.
“My work is focused on the multiple intersections of women in regions of Central America, yes, but they’re not only organizing around gender,” she said. “They’re navigating through how they can make a difference while living in poverty. To engage in the work of feminist theory, we need ethnic diversity and native identities. In the past, native women were included but in very limited ways. The groups I’m looking at are also trying to challenge and address that.”
Neitch says she’s very fortunate as a scholar working now because there is such a robust framework that has been established, especially through black feminism, throughout the last 30 years or so.
“A few of us have been working on the implications of indigenous feminism and the language of resistance over the last five to ten years” she said. “That language has become such a powerful thing in many forms of research, but there are also times where the language of resistance may not fully be representing the actions of the community we’re talking about. We as scholars are looking to see if there is language we can use that might better represent that agency and action.”
When she first arrived to TLU, Neitch admits not really know anything about graduate school or even realizing someone could make a career out of researching. It was during a study abroad opportunity at Bangor University in Wales when she began researching the graduate school process to understand what she needed to do to earn an advanced degree. Along with guidance from TLU professors like Dr. Tiffiny Sia, Neitch presented work in gender studies at the Southwestern Psychological Association conference and her work in literature at the Alpha Chi National College Honor Society conference. She says that presentation experience, along with the critical analysis that a TLU education encourages, were very helpful when she was earning her master’s in English from Texas Tech.
“I knew early on that I enjoyed creative writing and as I got older, that turned toward more critical and analytical writing,” she said. “During my last two years at TLU, I started having more courses that incorporated gender and that interested me. In my master’s work, I had a class that focused on Latin America and that’s where I started encountering more of the indigenous, subversive gender work.”
Those courses—and a trip to Belize—merged her earlier research in gender analysis with new academic interests around activism. After completing her doctorate, she hopes to land a coveted tenure-track professor job but is also open to opportunities in university research.
“I would encourage any undergraduate who’s interested in pursuing a career as an academic to definitely get early conference experience and test out that feeling of being a scholar in the field through contributing your own knowledge,” she said. “Talk to your advisors and ask about options. I know I was intimidated when I first started thinking about graduate school. Trust me; there are programs with funding. In the humanities, there are actually quite a lot of opportunities, especially if you are open to new options and committed to your work.”