Dr. Rhonda m. williams

"The Supremes," Austin, TX 1983

"The Supremes," Austin, TX 1983

player bio - dr. rhonda M. williams: ultimate player, leader, teacher, scholar.

By new york bent, February 17, 2017 

Rhonda was a key member on Boston Ladies Ultimate and a huge influence on the Austin ultimate community, starting the women’s team “The Supremes” at the University of Texas Austin. She was also a widely published political economist with path-breaking writings on the interaction of race, labor, gender, sexuality, and public policy. Rhonda died of cancer in 2000, at the much-too-young age of 43. We have gathered information on Rhonda through her writings, other scholars, and her teammates, who she influenced greatly. She was a passionate leader in both ultimate and in academics, and we can still learn important lessons from her today.

Rhonda graduated cum laude from Harvard-Radcliffe College in 1978, and earned her Ph.D. in Economics from M.I.T. in 1983, which is where she started playing ultimate. She was a member of Boston Ladies Ultimate the first year they won Nationals in 1981. In fact, she scored the winning goal on universe point. After BLU took a 5-1 lead, Synergy came back, only to go down 7-6, when Heather Morris hit Rhonda for the go-ahead goal with 18 seconds left.*

In 1983 Rhonda moved to Texas to teach at UT-Austin, and immediately started a women’s ultimate team, “The Supremes.” One teammate recalls, “when Rhonda recruited me, there were only a handful of women in Austin who played ultimate. Rhonda did not shrink away from the challenges of practicing ultimate on a field filled with men, throwing into the gusting Texas wind, or starting a women’s team from scratch. Our team adopted Rhonda’s intense work-ethic: Knowing if any one of us were able to stay on the field during practice for more than two points in a row, we were not running hard enough. We often traveled to tournaments with few or no subs. Despite the low numbers, Rhonda’s leadership brought us to a second place finish at Southern Regionals. We learned the importance of resilience, self-confidence and teamwork. I can still remember Rhonda’s bullet-like forehand, thundering voice of reason, and giant smile. She shared herself with us – teaching the sport of ultimate Frisbee and imparting wisdom to be used throughout our lifetime.. She was one in a million.” Rhonda was also a contributing writer to the UPA magazine, writing re-caps of the Southern Women’s Regionals division.

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In 1986, Rhonda joined the faculty at the University of Maryland as a professor of Afro-American studies and economics, and served as director of the Afro-American Studies Program. During her time there, Rhonda published many pathbreaking works in journals such as the Review of Black Political Economy, the Review of Radical Political Economics, and Feminist Studies, but her most famous essay was published in the 1997 book “The House That Race Built: Original Essays” by Toni Morrison, Angela Y. Davis, Cornel West, and others, on Black Americans and Politics in America Today. Her essay, “Living At the Crossroads: Explorations in Race, Nationality, Sexuality, and Gender,” is alongside essays written by highly respected black intellectuals, such as Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality”. Rhonda was also writing about intersectionality; the intersecting experiences of oppression, as a black queer woman in America.

After her death in 2000, one of Dr. Williams' colleagues, Douglas Besharov, established a scholarship in her name to support graduate fellowships at the University of Maryland, a testament to her influence on the University and its students. She also served on the Feminist Studies Board of Editors from 1990-1995. In the Autumn 2000 publication, the journal wrote, “Rhonda’s passing is a tragedy for communities of scholars in Women’s Studies, Afro-American Studies, Lesbian/Gay/Bi-Sexual Studies, as well as for feminist economists. She was at home in all of these communities, and made all of us feel at home with each other. She galvanized us to action on campus and in community, national, and international struggles against poverty and oppression based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. She was brilliant; she was a leader. She was articulate; she was thoughtful.”+ In a summary of Rhonda’s life’s work, the authors describe, “It is impossible to know what Williams would have given us had she been granted more time. She was in the midst of rapid intellectual evolution even as her energy was waning in her last year.”^

Her scholarship influenced her teammates as well. After a tough loss at 1987 Regionals, one teammate recalls,“I remember her instruction: our loss wasn't particular to this social context; it was rather a fundamental part of any competition and, though ours was one without economic or political consequences, it was a loss nonetheless and could give us insight into larger global struggles; we should embrace this experience and the empathy for 'otherness' it could engender. Her perspective, including this incessant debunking of "isms" wherever she could detect them, seemed powerful and certainly unique in my life. But I had no way of knowing if her voice was one among many, perhaps a particular articulation, but part of a trend in political, economic, social thought; or if it was instead a pioneering voice, a truly unique and courageous perspective, making novel connections, seeing what others could not see. By the experience of this first and more formal view of her life, I learned it was the latter.” -Kristin Barker, Supremes Teammate

Dr. Rhonda M. Williams was ahead of her time; an inspirational leader and teacher to everyone she knew, from ultimate players to college students to academic scholars. Luckily, her lessons live on in her many groundbreaking articles and in the memories of her friends and students. We’ve attached her list of works, which are still relevant today.

Thank you, Rhonda, for your contributions.

#womeninultimate #womeninultimatehistory #blackhistorymonth

* “Ultimate-The First Four Decades,” by Pasquale Anthony Leonardo and Adam Zagoria, 2005
+“In Memoriam: Rhonda Williams”, Feminist Studies, Autumn 2000. 
^“Rhonda M. Williams: Competition, Race, Agency, and Community,” by Gary Dymski, Ph.D, and Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ph.D., 2001. (http://www.celebratescholarships.umd.edu/…/showScholarship.…)