The call for papers for the 15th annual Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium is underway. Program Director Alison Bailey said “The Symposium may be one of Illinois State University’s best kept secrets.”

The Symposium, held on Friday, Feb. 12, in the Prairie Room North of the Bone Student Center, is a day-long event showcasing outstanding student work in the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program. It is free and open to the public.

Each year, a nationally recognized scholar or activist is selected to present the Symposium keynote address and a University address as well as visit classrooms. This year, historian and reproductive justice activist Rickie Solinger will spend three days at Illinois State, where she will give the two public lectures and present in social work and history classes. The conference is free and open to the public.

Bailey and Kyle Ciani, History associate professor, began planning for this year’s program three years ago, but said the long wait will be well worth it. Solinger, an independent scholar from upper New York, has been writing on issues of race, class, motherhood and reproductive justice for over a decade. Her books include “Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption,” “Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle,” “Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America” and “The Abortionist: A Woman against the Law and Interrupted Life – Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States.”

In preparation for her visit, the University Galleries will be hosting the “Beggars and Choosers” photo exhibition today through Feb. 11. Solinger will provide a walking tour of the Gallery at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 11. Her University lecture, “Nine Ways of Looking at a Poor Woman,” will be held later that day in Milner Library at 3:30 p.m. and will be followed by a book signing. The keynote address, “Who Gets to be a Real Mother in the United States: Race, Class, and The Fallacy of Choice,” will take place the following day at 1 p.m. in the Prairie Room North at Bone Student Center.

“Our Symposium has an interesting history,” Bailey remarked. “It was started in March of 1996 by Sandra Harmon, who served as the director for the Women’s Studies Program from July 1995 through December 1996. Under her leadership, the program staff expanded and outreach grew to include the advent of the Symposium. The tradition to showcase students’ work and invite women’s studies scholars from across the country has continued. A newer component of the event is the awarding of student scholarships.”

The Symposium presentations continue to draw a crowd. During a recent Symposium, an attendee asked Bailey about the doctoral work that one of the students was working on and was surprised to learn that it was an undergraduate student presenting that paper. The student was Andrea Parsek, who during her senior year presented “Sonia Delaunay-Terk: Aestheticizing the Feminine through Art and Color,” which focused on the artist’s ability to blend the rhythm of art and the energy of women and highlight her contribution of a female voice to modern life. That paper is just one example of the high caliber of students who participate in the Symposium. And while this outstanding work may start on campus, it rarely ends at graduation.

Rachel Spangler, a 2005 WGS alumna is set to release her third book. Her fiction incorporates women’s and gender studies themes as well as those familiar to Illinois State. Her first two books “Trails Merge” and “Learning Curve” won awards from the Golden Crown Literary Society.