Jordan Fitzgerald, Contributing Photographer

The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program held a colloquium on Monday night in which two graduate students displayed their research regarding women’s studies. Both presenters, Angie Diaz GRD ’21 and Maryam Ivette Parhizkar GRD ’21, are graduate students in the American Studies Program — though Parhizkar is also studying within the Department of African American Studies.

“The Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Graduate Colloquium is a venue in which Yale graduate students from a wide range of disciplines present work that engages women’s studies, feminism, gender and sexuality studies, lesbian and gay studies, and queer studies,” said Patricia Ekpo GRD ’21 in an email to the News, who organized the event alongside Jacinda Tran GRD ’22.

At the beginning of each academic year, colloquium organizers issue a call for paper submissions from graduate students studying WGSS or whose work overlaps with the department’s focus. From this pool of applicants, Ekpo and Tran selected 12 graduate students to showcase their work on pressing issues within the field of WGSS at six different colloquia over the course of the academic year, with two presenting at each event. A Q&A session concludes each colloquium.

Monday’s event centered on the studies of Diaz and Parhizkar. Before coming to Yale, Diaz graduated from Duke University in 2014 with a bachelor’s in history and a certificate in Latino/a Studies of the Global South. She is now pursuing a doctorate in American studies. At the colloquium, Diaz examined the formation of Tex-Mex cuisine and metropolitan expansion in Houston, Texas, through an in-depth study of a local chain eatery, Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant, and how the figure of “Mama Ninfa,” the restaurant’s proprietor, helped shape this cuisine. Diaz said she was inspired by her childhood in Houston during the 1990s.

“I could have talked about the Rockets,” she laughed during her presentation, referring to her hometown basketball team’s 1994 NBA championship, “but I decided to focus on food instead.”

Parhizkar, who is a doctoral candidate in American studies and African American studies, received a bachelor’s from Columbia University, a master’s from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a 2019 CantoMundo Fellowship for her poetry. She told the News that she has been attending WGSS colloquia since she first began pursuing her doctorate at Yale. 

At the event, Parhizkar presented the photography work of Mexican American dancer and artist Rosa Rolando Covarrubias. Parhizkar said she is interested in how Covarrubias’ past experiences as a Broadway performer taking on racialized and exoticized roles influenced her work as a photographer and what this dynamic suggests about Covarrubias’ own attitudes to race and racial mixing in Latin America.

“[Colloquia] can be a great testing ground for works in progress and especially for those of us trying to write or revise dissertation chapters,” Parhizkar said. “I am at the early stages of revisiting this work after some time away from it, and feel like the WGSS colloquium is a generous space to think alongside colleagues.”

She added that she finds it difficult to write scholarly works without feedback, which has been a particular challenge since the pandemic forced University activity to move online, and she encourages anyone interested in pursuing academic research to attend events like this one.

In addition to the colloquia, the department also hosts three working group sessions each semester to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. The WGSS working group sessions consist of a talk from a faculty member whose work relates to WGSS. Event attendees will read the faculty member’s work beforehand and then discuss the content during the talk. Associate professor of African American studies, history and American studies Crystal Feimster will workshop her current project at the next working group.

“Yale in general can be very closed off based on disciplines and departments and WGSS Working Group and Colloquium is a great opportunity to break down those barriers,” Ekpo wrote to the News in an email.

According to Ekpo, the colloquia offer graduate students and faculty from a variety of departments to meet, share their work and offer feedback to one another.

Parhizkar echoed this sentiment, noting that she believes that the WGSS department’s events offer one of the few spaces where she can hear the work of colleagues across multiple disciplines.

The next WGSS colloquium will be held on Monday, April 12, over Zoom.

Jordan Fitzgerald | jordan.fitzgerald@yale.edu