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Women today — from Women’s History Month to the pandemic

By Kalli Colacino
Features Editor

Dr. Annmarie Nicolosi has been teaching at the College for over 20 years. She has seen women’s, gender, and sexuality studies (WGSS) grow into a department that teaches history, celebrates women and encourages change — everything that Women’s History Month (WHM) represents.

Throughout the years, Nicolosi has seen advancements in women’s rights and equality both in and out of the College, but she says there is always room for improvement.

“For every two steps forward, there’s one step back,” Nicolosi said.

In 1987, Congress declared the month of March to be Women’s History Month — but its history dates back to 1909, when the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Women’s Day, according to BBC. A year later, Women’s Day became international — and in 1975, the United Nations made it official by celebrating the day. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 National Women’s Week, according to the National Women’s History Museum.

Today, the month dedicated to recognizing and honoring women is widely known and celebrated around the world.

“I celebrate Women’s History Month by attending events hosted by WILL [Women in Learning and Leadership] and by watching movies centered around women,” Maya Hendl, a sophomore criminology and women’s, gender, and sexualities studies dual major, said.

In celebration of WHM, the department of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies hosted various events. From alum panels to mentoring events, the month of March was packed full of opportunities for students to celebrate WHM.

The itinerary for the March 2021 Women’s History Month events (Photo courtesy of Cecilia Colbeth).

“We [the department] put on events every March,” Nicolosi said. “WGSS always, always, has a full slate of folks who come for Women’s History Month.”

Most recently, four alumni from the WGSS department took part in an annual panel, which was moderated by Professor Nicolosi. Earlier in the month, Michel Duster, a writer and “champion of racial and gender equity,” was featured to speak about the 2020 black lives matter movement, among other topics.

WILL, a women’s based organization at the College, hosts many events in March and throughout the year to celebrate and commemorate women and the impact they have on the world.

“We host legacy events every year that have a lot of history behind them, and we work to advocate for women on campus,” said Lakshmi Gurram, the executive chair of WILL and a sophomore biology major. “Having this common passion brings us all together and allows us to have engaged conversations.” 

Gurram said that Women’s History Month is the month used to commemorate all the inspiring and innovative women-identifying individuals in the campus community and society as a whole.

The WGSS Alum Panel, where President Foster was in attendance (Photo courtesy of Cecilia Colbeth).

“We fight for equality for women all year round, but this is the time we take out of our busy lives to take a step back and look at all we have accomplished,” she said.

For Diamond Urey, a freshman history major, Women’s History Month means a month of celebrating the progress women have made, and to recognize how there is still change that needs to occur.

“It’s important to acknowledge that women have made many achievements in American society such as getting the right to vote and being in male dominated fields,” Urey said. “However, I believe we still have a long way to go.”

The Michele Duster Zoom event (Photo courtesy of Cecilia Colbeth).

The College has come a long way in recognizing that women are an integral part of the institution. Over the years, there has been an effort to hire more female professors and administrators in key positions, but there’s always more that can be done, Nicolosi said.

“We are a state college, so technically we are employees not only of the College, but of the state,” she said. “I think that our maternity leave, or our parent leave, is not as robust as it could be.”

More than a decade ago, the College closed an integral resource for students and faculty who had young children — the child care center. This center, originally located in Forcina Hall, had been in operation for more than 20 years. It started out as a babysitting group for students and turned into a licensed childcare center. Up to 25 children could attend, while students and faculty were at school or work, respectively.

“I think the demise of the childcare center was a step backwards,” said Nicolosi.

Over the years, the College has taken initiatives to create an environment for women to advance and grow. The Women’s Center, located in the Brower Student Center, has created a safe space for students to go to and connect with supporting board members and other students. Roshni Raji, the Women’s Center vice president of operations and a junior international studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies dual major, encourages women to stop by if they need support, or to talk to and meet new friends.

Raji believes Women’s History Month is a time of reflection.

“It’s a time to reflect on and celebrate accomplishments, and the progress we’ve made towards equality, while still recognizing the work that is happening globally and supporting the women who continue it,” she said.

The “Mama Bear” documentary viewing and Q&A event (Photo courtesy of Cecilia Colbeth).

The pandemic and accompanying recession has certainly been hard on women — especially women of color, said Janet Gray, professor and chair of the WGSS department.

“Women have been more likely to either lose or have to give up their jobs than men, thus losing income as well as progress in their careers,” she said. “The recession’s impact on jobs has been greatest in employment sectors that are ‘feminized’ — that is, where women workers are concentrated — such as retail, dining, hospitality, and health care.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from March to September 2020, 2,651,000 women left the workforce, compared to 1,705,000 men. In September alone, about 865,000 women left the workforce — four times more than men.

“Women also bear the brunt of caregiving for family members. And in two-parent heterosexual families with children, when a parent is needed to stay home with children as they attend school remotely, it’s much more likely to be the mother who does so,” said Gray. “All of this is likely to add up to a setback for women’s equality in the workplace.”

With many schools being completely remote as a result of the pandemic, women are facing the challenge of educating their children and meeting other demands. “It’s another form of systemic inequality within a 21st century home that the pandemic is laying out,” an article published by NPR states.

According to an article published by Business Insider, women were paid 17.7% less than men in 2019.

“There is definitely still a very long way to go,” Hendl said. “Just take the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. They have won four world cups, and the Men’s team has not won once. Yet, the men are paid astronomically more money for playing the same sport.”

Although when women take two steps forward, they take one step back — as Nicololsi says — the recognition and celebration of women has come a long way. Since 1987, Women’s History Month has been a way to commemorate the success and achievements women have made.

“I think the takeaway is that progress is never secure — it’s fragile,” Gray said. “We all have to keep paying attention.”

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