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Sandra McEvoy is a clinical associate professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Political Science at the Boston University College of Arts & Sciences. Her recent work includes the coordination of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement (GFA) Conference, marking the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. 

From October 10 to 12, The Good Friday Conference will feature a host of feminist scholars, including Cynthia Enloe and Monica McWilliams, conversational panels and a book signing on October 11 from noon to 1 pm, and a welcome address by Northern Ireland Special Envoy Joseph Kennedy III. Follow along on Instagram for the latest information regarding the Good Friday Agreement: Grassroots Approaches to Peace and Conflict Conference.

Ahead of the conference, arts&sciences asked McEvoy about her research, developing the conference, and what she hopes others will take away from the Good Friday Agreement.

What is your role here at BU? What does your work look like on a daily basis? 

I teach courses primarily in the areas of my research, which is related to women’s participation in paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland, which is where my family is from. I am also doing some work on the ways that identity shows up in conflict,  what we do about it and the catalysts for social change. I teach in cross-listed courses for political science and WGS. On a daily basis I get to do all that fun stuff. I get to talk about all the things I like and the upcoming conference really is a culmination of all of the kinds of thinking I’ve been thinking and doing in the 20 years that I have been learning and listening to women—particularly “Loyalist”  women.  

What is the Good Friday Agreement Conference? What sort of programming does it include?

The Good Friday Agreement Conference marks–notice I didn’t say celebrate– marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998. I’m convinced that the people who are responsible for keeping that agreement together and the people who tell other people to keep that agreement are often women. And yet, we have no conversation with them at all. Because we think somehow the people with titles have more important things to say—more than people who live through the issue. We’re flying 20 women from Belfast, 10 from Roman Catholic communities, and 10 from Protestant communities. We’ll have a three-day event. The first night opens with Senator Kennedy III, who’s going to talk a bit about his work as a Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland. And then we’ll have just cool women, you know, the people you want to be around. They’re smart. They’re fast. They’re funny. And if you ask them what they think is going to keep Northern Ireland running in the middle of this significant period of significant challenge you’re not going to do it without women. You just won’t.

What is your role in the conference? 

The conference is split in two. We have the Belfast side and then the BU side. I was over in Belfast in July and we sat down and talked with the women to be in a conference.  On the BU side I’ve been working with African Studies Center Program Administrator, Natasha Patel (PAR ‘17), who’s one of the most gifted people I know on all admin things. Then I have two student volunteers, Anna Tellalian (CAS’24) and Noa Blitz (CAS’26). Anna is a WGS student and Noa I stole from my “Bombs and Bombshells” class. We’re going to try and pull this off, which we will. 

Where did the inspiration for this program come from? 

As I mentioned, I started listening to Northern Irish Protestant women, about 20 years ago. I go to Belfast almost every year and I have an affinity for it because my family is one of those weird Irish families that’s Protestant, not Catholic. Boston is a very Nationalist city and doesn’t really lend itself to having a conversation about Protestant women and Protestant concerns. We know that no group is homogenous, but in this case, the Protestant community is not used to putting themselves forward for recognition and help and funding and those kinds of things. With my counterpart, Debbie Watters, Cofounder of Northern Ireland Alternatives, we sat in a restaurant  in Belfast, and we thought, ‘Let’s do it. Can we do it?’ Then, we started raising money. Debbie has raised money in Northern Ireland to bring all of these women over with accommodations. So the impetus is always just to let the women speak. Give them a minute and give them training to know how to engage in these moments. We can’t do this work if we’re not talking to women. We just can’t. 

What are you most excited for at this conference? 

Cynthia Enloe, professor of government and director of the Women’s Studies Program at Clark University, used to be my dissertation advisor. I flew from San Diego, California, to Worcester, Massachusetts to study with her because she’s that awesome. She’s going to be the keynote on October 11, in the morning. She is widely considered one of the foundational scholars in Feminist International Relations (IR) and I think she is a big deal. Carol Cohn, founding director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights—is another pivotal feminist thinker in IR.  They’re both good friends, of course. I used to work with Carol over at UMass Boston. She is going to be presenting on a really important panel on October 12 at 9 am.

What is your hope for the conference and for those who attend? 

One, I want these women to shine. I want people to be asking questions about them. I get teary-eyed about them because they’re that important to big picture politics in Northern Ireland. I want the audience just to listen. Come willing to hear things you haven’t heard before–opinions you haven’t heard before. Ask the question ‘how does knowing this help me understand that place and those people better?’ If we can get away with that, I’ll be very happy. 

Interview conducted by Kelly Broder (COM’27)