2023 NCFR Conference Plenaries

Meet Our Plenary Presenters

2023 Plenary Presenters

Read more below about each presentation.


Wednesday Plenary: Nov. 8

Stephanie Coontz, M.A.
Our Current Crisis in Historical Perspective

Stephanie Coontz

As highlighted by the 2023 NCFR conference theme, society is experiencing a syndemic period brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This talk will attempt to connect the converging crises of the 21st century and the diverging responses to those crises into historical perspective. Contradictions and trade-offs produced by changing socioeconomic relationships and changing values about gender, race, class, and equality will be emphasized. Suggestions will be provided as to what we can learn from history – and from on-going research – about what we can and cannot do to contain or cure the social and personal pathologies of this syndemic. 

Learning Objectives
Participants will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the historical variability and social origins of ideas about race, gender, and sexuality.
  • Examine the origins of our current economic and political pathologies and show how they have aggravated "pre-existing conditions" of both disadvantage AND privilege.
  • Show why the only thing more dangerous than accepting nostalgic myths about American history is discounting the legitimate anxieties and grievances that the mythmakers are attempting to exploit.
  • Summarize recent research on what sorts of actions actually change minds instead of hardening minds.

Stephanie Coontz, M.A., (she/her) is the director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. A professor emerita at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, she received her B.A. in the history honors program at the University of California at Berkeley. As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, she earned her M.A. in history at the University of Washington. She has since authored seven books on marriage and family life, one of which was cited in the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. She also edited American Families: A Multicultural Reader. She is currently working on a book of essays tentatively titled For Better AND Worse: The Problematic Past and Uncertain Future of Marriage. Ms. Coontz is a frequent guest columnist for the New York Times and is widely interviewed about her research by the press. She has been a member of NCFR for 25 years and a frequent author of Journal of Marriage and Family.

University of Georgia



Sponsored by Department of Human Development and Family Science at the University of Georgia


Thursday Plenary: Nov. 9

Tashel Bordere, Ph.D., CT
Ambiguity, Compounded Loss, and Suffocated Grief in Families Amid the Syndemic 

Tashel Bordere

In a largely death-denying, grief-blind broader culture, social media and national movements have been pivotal in bringing widespread attention to the hidden traumas, complex losses, and profound grief of families simultaneously coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and sociopolitical grief. This plenary will address ways that historical patterns of ambiguous, compounded loss, disenfranchisement, and suffocated grief (or penalties assessed of grieving individuals) were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic inequities. Drawing from social justice-based grief theories, research, and case examples, we will examine social justice issues in loss in the syndemic, centering families located at the margins, opportunities for dismantling systemic impediments to coping, and ways to promote grief enfranchisement in various institutions. Implications for grief-informed research, education, clinical practice, programming and policy will be addressed.

Learning Objectives
Participants will be able to:

  • Explain concepts of loss (ambiguous), suffocated grief, and bereavement within context
  • Describe historical and contemporary patterns unique to the loss and grief experiences of the general population and patterns unique to individuals and families living through and resisting intersecting forms of marginalization (e.g., educational, social)
  • Explicate contextual factors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic that exacerbated challenges to grief, mourning, and coping among youth and families in the syndemic.
  • Delineate culturally resonant, grief-informed approaches to research, clinical practice, education, programming, work spaces and policies.

Tashel C. Bordere, Ph.D., CT, (she/her) is a certified thanatologist, grant-funded researcher at the Center for Family Policy and Research and adjunct faculty, Department of Human Development and Family Science, at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Dr. Bordere earned her doctorate degree in human environmental sciences from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her research assumes a contextual and interdisciplinary approach focusing on systemic inequities and cultural trauma; stigmatized loss and coping; Black youth and family bereavement; and “suffocated grief,” a term she coined. Dr. Bordere is a past Fellow of Forward Promise, through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that focuses on the promotion of healing, growth, and thriving among boys and young men of color. She is co-editor/co-author of the Handbook of Social Justice in Loss and Grief and developed the S.H.E.D. Loss and Grief Tools Training. Dr. Bordere has been featured in multiple media outlets including USA Today, The New York Times, Legacy.com, Psychology Today, and Houston Chronicle.

Texas Tech HDFS 2020



Sponsored by Texas Tech University Department of Human Development and Family Sciences


Friday Plenary: Nov. 10

Abbie Goldberg, Ph.D.
The Impact of Discriminatory and Affirming Laws and Policies on LGBTQ Parent Families

Abbie Goldberg

LGBTQ parent families are currently being impacted by laws and policies across the United States that directly or indirectly stigmatize LGBTQ identities, as well by the sociopolitical climate that often accompanies or embeds such laws and policies. This plenary will address how laws and policies that recognize (versus deny the existence of) same-sex relationships and LGBTQ parent-child relationships serve to impact the lives and well-being of LGBTQ parents and their families. This plenary will also address how laws and policies that restrict recognition, affirmation, or inclusion of LGBTQ identities—such as in schools—impact LGBTQ parents and their children. Attention will be paid to the role of sociopolitical context and community climate in understanding sources of pain, tension, and resilience for LGBTQ parent families. This presentation will include data collected from three recent studies that examine the impact of the Parental Rights in Education Act (Don’t Say Gay) in Florida. It will also address contemporary challenges—legal and institutional—to conducting this type of research in the current sociopolitical climate.

Learning Objectives
Participants will be able to:

  • Learn about key legislation affecting contemporary LGBTQ parent families.
  • Understand the relationship between systemic stressors and family, relational, and individual well-being.
  • Gain knowledge of how different members of the LGBTQ community are differentially impacted by legislative and community level stressors.

Abbie E. Goldberg, Ph.D., (she/her) is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the director of women’s and gender Studies at Clark University. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research examines diverse families, including LGBTQ-parent families and adoptive-parent families, with a focus on family transitions. Dr. Goldberg has also conducted research on trans students’ experiences in higher education. She has received research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Psychological Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and more. Dr. Goldberg authored over 140 peer-reviewed articles, four books, and is the editor/co-editor of four books. Her most recent books include LGBTQ Family Building: A Guide for Prospective Parents  and Open Adoption & Diverse Families. Dr. Goldberg is a widely recognized expert on LGBTQ-parent families and is regularly featured by media outlets including the New York Times, The Atlantic, and People. She has also provided expert testimony in court cases involving adoption, same-sex divorce, and parenting.


Sponsored by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Human Development and Family Studies


Saturday Plenary: Nov. 11

Marlene F. Watson, Ph.D.

A Syndemic: The American Racial Hierarchy, Systemic Racism, and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Marlene Watson

The American racial hierarchy played a critical role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Systemic racism, the child of the American racial hierarchy, adversely interacted with the COVID-19 pandemic to form a syndemic. Racism was known to be a social determinant of health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the COVID-19 pandemic left no doubt that systemic racism is an epidemic in its own right. Systemic racism has impacted Black people across many generations, contributing to and maintaining an excess burden of disease for Black families. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic hit vulnerable communities the hardest. In the United States, that meant BIPOC communities, with Black people being especially vulnerable due to intergenerational racial trauma. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that a nation is not only as healthy as its people but that a more just nation is a healthier one. This plenary will explore the American racial hierarchy, systemic racism, and health inequity. It is also a call to action for family therapists, educators, researchers, and policymakers to collectively take on systemic racism and promote mental and physical health equity.

Learning Objectives
Participants will be able to:

  • Advance knowledge of how the American racial hierarchy was ripe for a syndemic to emerge.
  • Promote awareness of the impact intergenerational racial trauma has had on the health and well-being of Black people.
  • Encourage family therapists, educators, researchers, and policymakers to center systemic racism in their work.

Marlene F. Watson, Ph.D., LMFT, (she/her) is the director of training at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and associate professor emerita and former chair of the Couple and Family Therapy Department at Drexel University. She earned her doctorate in couple and family therapy at Virginia Tech. Dr. Watson is past president of the Family Process Institute Board of Directors, has served on editorial review boards for several journals including the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, and has written columns for Heart & Soul magazine. She is the former Chair of the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education as well as the inaugural couple and family therapist to receive the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship, where she served as a senior health advisor to the then U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV. Dr. Watson’s outstanding research was recognized by the American Family Therapy Academy as recipient of their 2009 Distinguished Contribution to Social Justice Award. Dr. Watson is a licensed couple and family therapist in private practice and author of Facing the Black Shadow.