Rebecca Lambert is a PhD Candidate in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies with a concentration in feminisms and racial justice at Oregon State University. Her research is focused on how emotions shape the work of feminist anti-racist activists and coalition spaces.
Her dissertation, Getting Emotional: Affective Whiteness in Feminist Anti-Racist Social Justice Movements explores how white women’s experience of emotions have been a part of their feminist, anti-racist organizing. It is grounded in interviews with activists involved in the Women’s March in Oregon and South Carolina.
“Particularly for white women, shame and guilt and fear become ways to not engage in anti-racist and feminist work,” she says. “They don’t have to be obstacles. There is a way for those emotions to be motivators or to help push people to do actions and to do more than just unproductively sit in those feelings.”
Lambert has a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Affairs, which she completed in 2001 from Indiana University. She went on to complete her Master of Arts in Gender and Women’s Studies at Minnesota State University in 2016. She serves as the Managing Editor of Feminist Formations, a leading journal for innovative work in the field of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Mostly recently, Lambert published essays in Gendered Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Oxford University Press) edited by Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee, including “Contemporary Social Justice Protest Movements: Black Lives Matter.” She has also presented her work at various conferences including the National Women’s Studies Association and the Lewis & Clark Gender Studies Symposium.
What was your journey like that led you to the PhD program here in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies?
There is not a lot of options for graduate work in this field in South Carolina. I started with the graduate certificate at the University of South Carolina and that was offered through the main campus in Columbia. I liked the focus and the inclusion of activism here (WGSS program at Oregon State University), which a lot of schools talk about but don't necessarily do and there was something different about the way it was written about, even just reading it on the website at the time. It has been interesting to be at three different institutions doing this work too.
Who are some of your biggest feminist influences and why?
There was not any major feminist influence in my life growing up. It wasn't a thing that I thought about. It is interesting now to look back and think about my family, I don't think I would say anyone in my family is a feminist. I had this really amazing teacher in high school. She was my geometry teacher. She was just always very kind and supportive. If I look back I think she probably was a bit of a feminist influence in a way. Coming into WGSS was life changing. bell hooks was the first feminist scholar I read and she changed everything.
What inspires you to teach?
My interest in teaching comes from various experiences throughout my life. When I made the decision to go to graduate school I wanted to be the professor I didn’t have as an undergrad. I went to a large institution for my undergrad as was able to hide in the crowd, which I now realize is not the best model for learning. So I knew I wanted to be the kind of teacher that engaged with students even at a large institution. When I was working at the YWCA I thought - wouldn't it be interesting to be in a space where you can, not change somebody's mind necessarily but just have conversations that are different? That could shift understanding or plant seeds for something to make sense later? As I teach, I think about how I can be a part of the learning process with people, the process of shaping and making sense of ideas, and shifting conversations to unlearn and learn.
What excites you to be a part of the WGSS community and field? How has it influenced you as a person?
I think it has changed everything. It changes your friendships, the conversations you have with your friends, with your family. It shifts your perspective and sometimes you keep relationships and sometimes you don't. WGSS has given me a sense of myself that I didn’t have before. It gave me language to make sense of and express my experiences. It has also given me confidence to speak up in ways that I was afraid to do before in my life.
Would you describe yourself as an activist? Do you have that side to your personality? Yes/no and why?
I've gone to rallies and marches and done that but I think it [activism] is in the conversations we have every day, it's in the conversations I'm having with friends and in the relationships we build together through what we are talking about. So, yes, I am an activist and I see that happening in different ways in my life.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
To treat grad school like a job. And, to trust the process.
What are some of your learnings as a teacher?
I try to be really authentic in the classroom. One of my first feminist theories classes was taught by a professor that brought her whole self into her teaching, which allowed us as students to do the same. Her teaching style resonated with me and I strive to bring my whole self into my teaching. I also love the reciprocal learning that happens in WGSS classrooms.. I love hearing and learning from the students who are doing such exciting and world-changing work.
Story and photo by Sharadha Kalyanam, PhD student, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University.