What are the Nag's Heart Seminars?
The Nag's Heart Seminars are small residential conferences usually occurring in the summer. Currently there are three conferences annually. Each lasts four days. Each conference includes eight to fourteen participants of whom two act as group facilitators. About half the participants include college professors as well as men and women from business, law, and medicine. Since 1994, when the operation obtained a name, there have been about 60 meetings.
How are the Seminars Structured?
Each conference has its own individual theme-such as dilemmas of teaching, working for social change, feminist leadership, and balancing work and family.
The effectiveness of Nag's Heart conferences derives from their unusual format and attention to process. Participants live together in informal settings, often sharing bedrooms and bathrooms. Day One starts in the afternoon with a social hour, dinner, and brief introductions. Days Two and Three involve intensive small group interactions in the mornings, free time for relaxation in the afternoons, and communal meals and activities in the evenings. The final day is devoted to achieving closure, both substantively and emotionally. Ceremonies matter at all points in the process.
During the intensive work sessions, each participant is allocated one half hour in which to present a "dilemma" of personal import relevant to the issues at hand. Dilemmas can be broad or narrow. Participants may use their time slot in any way they wish. They may speak for 29 minutes and get one minute of comments from the group or speak for one minute and get 29 minutes of discussion. Extra sessions are devoted to issues that transverse individual presentations.
Each meeting has its own particular structure; but all conform to the general structure and to the mission of Nag's Heart. That mission is the replenishment of the feminist spirit.
What is the feminist spirit and why does it need replenishment? When we refer to the feminist spirit, we have in mind the communal effort to enhance true gender equity. The spirit resides within individuals, but individuals in isolation cannot bring about real change. Collective efforts are necessary. Replenishment is needed because any effort at true change drains people of energy, even as it satisfies and invigorates them. When one is in the trenches, the war can seem mighty long, even for the winning side.
Virtually all participants have noted the restorative power of the conferences. Formal and informal evaluations reveal that the conferences benefit participants both in the moment and over time. Most conferences have "official photos," and these photos grace homes and offices across the country where, say the erstwhile participants, they give people the boost they need to keep fighting the good fight. Over half of the people who have come to one Nag's Heart conference return within three years for another.
Throughout the four days, staffers pamper participants as much as limited budgets allow. For instance, participants are picked up at the airport; refreshments are always available; and so on. More important than the material comfort is the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual comfort of knowing that one can speak and listen without fear and without pretense. Enormous benefit comes from the release of pent up worries and frustrations. Constructive feedback helps participants to find ways to put their dilemmas in perspective and to develop practical and workable new strategies for achieving personal goals. Many participants speak of the solace of companionship. It is always helpful to change-agents to find out that they are not alone.
After participants leave a Nag's Heart conference, the positive effects, both practical and emotional, persist. Nag's Hearters form notoriously strong networks. People often continue to share information about employment opportunities. At least two promotions to tenure have been credited to Nag's Heart, and many consulting contacts have been made. One woman estimates that she landed a lucrative job because of her time at a Nag's Heart conference. Four conferences have already resulted in published books.
The conferences are inexpensive. Normally, the inclusive cost is about $350 per person per four-day session. Oftentimes, a person comes for free because grants and gifts underwrite various sessions.
Many people who have been to a conference donate time or money so that others may come. In 1999 we started an endowed fund with donations ranging from ten dollars to four thousand dollars. Within a three-year period, our endowment has grown to $40,000. Counting pledges, we are now at $80,000! Faye Crosby says, "My goal is to grow the endowment to $100,000 before I retire from the University of California."
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