Prof. Bramen speaking at a podium, a large photo of Isabel Marcus is displayed on an easel.

Remarks by Prof. Carrie Tirado Bramen

I am Carrie Tirado Bramen, Director of the UB Gender Institute and professor of English. I am grateful to Lisa Mueller for all the work that she did behind the scenes to make today’s event possible and I would like to thank the Law School for reaching out to the Gender Institute to collaborate on today’s memorial.

For those of you who do not know, Isabel Marcus was the first co-director of the Gender Institute, or as it was known then (and is still known officially today)—as the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender—when it was founded in 1997. She co-directed the Institute with Peggy Arcara, Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the UB School of Medicine, until 2003.

I want to say at the outset that it’s a real privilege to serve as director of the Gender Institute and to carry on the legacy of feminist leadership at UB, which Isabel Marcus and Peggy Arcara inaugurated twenty-five years ago. The Gender Institute continues to be the only Institute in the entire SUNY system devoted to research on women, gender, and sexuality from a broad interdisciplinary, intersectional, and international perspective.

Inspired in part by her own graduate work at UC Berkeley in African Studies and later with her Fulbright and other fellowships to Eastern Europe, Isabel played an important role in making sure that the Gender Institute had an international scope from the beginning. To honor this global tradition, Professor Kari Winter, my predecessor as Director, created over ten years ago the Isabel S. Marcus International Research Fellowship, which has funded doctoral research on a range of topics from care work among migrant women workers in Lebanon to contemporary coalition building between Kurdish and Turkish women. Our most recent recipient of this award, Victoria Nachreiner from the Department of History, is with us today and will speak about her upcoming research in Africa this summer.

When I mentioned this award and the legacy of Isabel Marcus to our new Vice-Provost for International Education, Dr. Nojin Kwak, he immediately doubled this fellowship and made a multi-year commitment to co-sponsor it. Isabel would have been delighted with this collaboration because she was the 2012 recipient of UB’s Award for Contributions to International Education. I am also grateful to those, including many colleagues, who have generously donated to this fellowship.

But Isabel Marcus contributed far more to the Gender Institute than either fellowships in her honor or awards can describe. Isabel was a true original, a force of nature who was fearlessly and unapologetically herself, at a time when women had to conform to an impossible standard of Leave-it-to-Beaver perfection, a WASP ideal that no woman could attain. I always enjoyed listening to Isabel tell stories. She was one of the great storytellers—I remember hanging out in her beautiful apartment having tea for three hours listening to stories, such as the excitement surrounding the English translation in the 1950s of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex—and how the undergraduates at Barnard read and debated this book until late into the night. The same was true a few years later with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which created another cultural earthquake among women of her generation.

Her gift for storytelling was just one of the many ways that Isabel created community wherever she went. She drew people to her. I remember when I was first hired at UB and came to visit campus in 1994. There was a reception on a cold January evening in Claire Kahane’s home on Norwood Avenue—a house crowded with people. And who was there to greet me and to welcome me to UB? Isabel, of course. I was not in her department, not in her School, or her field, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that a junior colleague had arrived and she was going to be there to welcome me on a cold winter’s night.

That is one reason among many why the retirement luncheon we had for Isabel in October of 2019 was so special. Working with Michael Boucai and Judith Olin in the Law School, we hosted a luncheon that drew friends and colleagues from all over; it was a reunion of sorts of that same feminist community that greeted me in 1994.

And I just want to conclude by talking briefly about my last collaboration with Isabel, because it is one that we need to remember today more than ever. I attended a luncheon downtown that Karen King had organized and I found myself seated next to Isabel and Senator Gillibrand—as well as one of the keynote speakers at the event Dr. Jamila Perritt. Dr. Perritt, a Washington, DC-based doctor who is currently President of Physicians for Reproductive Health, spoke powerfully on the meaning of reproductive justice. And Isabel suggested during lunch that we bring her back to Buffalo as a speaker at the Gender Institute. I thought it was a great idea. And so a few months later in February 2018, the Gender Institute held a full-day symposium on reproductive justice—featuring Dr. Perritt, as well as Dr. Katharine Morrison, and activists from Planned Parenthood and other organizations in WNY. The event marked the 20th anniversary of Dr. Slepian’s murder in Amherst, NY. And Isabel gave the concluding remarks.

As we all know, it looks as if Roe v Wade is about to be overturned and if Isabel were here with us today—and I very much wish she were—I know where she would be: on the frontlines fighting for justice and encouraging others to do the same. May her memory be a blessing and an inspiration as the struggle continues.