When women speak, listen up: The Albert Schweitzer Institute hosted its annual International Women’s Day Teach-in featuring impactful women at QU

Illustration by (Sarah Hardiman)

The 1960s marked the first time women were allowed to open bank accounts in the U.S. However, it wasn’t until the 1974 Equal Opportunity Act that banks issued credit cards to unmarried women who otherwise would’ve needed the signature of their husbands.

 Achieving greatness is no easy feat. However, in a world where white men still hold dominance, women have to fight 10 times harder.

Quinnipiac University’s Albert Schweitzer Institute held its annual International Women’s Day Teach-in on March 8 in the Mount Carmel Piazza.

“It’s a great day to be on campus,” President Judy Olian said in a speech at the teach-in. “To be very proud and joyful about celebrating this International Women’s Day Teach-in, celebrating our women on campus and of course also celebrating the economic, cultural and political achievements of women, which is so numerous. And it’s inspiring to showcase all the accomplishments of women. And in particular, the women here at Quinnipiac.”

Olian kickstarted the event by recognizing the many contributions from women, past and present. That included the women in her own life who acted as role models, like her Jewish mother who survived the catastrophic events of the Holocaust.

“She was forced to never take no for an answer,” Olian said. “She always felt that there were possibilities even when they were the most daunting circumstances around her. I think that that’s how she survived the war, the Holocaust … Through the force and her personality, she’s powered all of us kids to reach for the stars.”

Women in different cultures

Christine Kinealy, professor of history and director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, expressed how women leaders were notoriously left out of accounts of history in favor of figuratively putting men on a pedestal.

Everyone knows about St. Patrick, one of the three patron saints of Ireland, whereas hardly anyone acknowledges one of the most important goddesses of Ireland, St. Brigid. The goddess, along with many other notable women in history, was left up to historical scholars to discover as their stories were often dismissed or replaced altogether.

“Increasingly the history of pagan Ireland (and) of early Christian Ireland was written by men,” Kinealy said. “And this patriarchal system wrote women, especially beautiful goddesses out of their history. And so women were now depicted as being passive and pure if they weren’t invisible. So suddenly Saint Brigid was written out of history and when she did exist, she was a Saint.”

Rania Bensadok, a senior philosophy and political science double major and vice president of the Indigenous Student Union, read some of her poetry based on her experience as a first-generation American whose family comes from Algeria.

She emphasized her grandparents’ experience in the Algerian War, which took place from 1954 to 1964 and earned Algeria its independence from France.

“My grandparents continuously shared stories with me growing up about the war and the things they had to endure during that time,” Bensadok said. “For instance, during the war, it was forbidden for Algerians to make or be seen with an Algerian flag. My grandmother created the first Algerian flag factory.”

Kiara Tantaquidgeon, a Quinnipiac graduate from 2021 and former president of the ISU, ended the morning with her general appreciation to native women and in particular Gladys Tantaquidgeon, an author from the Mohegan tribe that greatly influenced her life.

“I was always told this by my great grandfather that native women are a force of nature and our creator’s most powerful creation, and Gladys was certainly no exception to that,” Kiara Tantaquidgeon said. “She stood for education. She stood for community. She stood for social justice and she was the blueprint.”

Larissa Pitts, an assistant professor of history, took attendees back to International Women’s Day in 1942.

Larissa Pitts, assistant professor of history, take attendees back to International Women’s Day in World War II through Ding Ling’s essay ‘Thoughts on March 8.’ Photo by (Autumn Driscoll)

“It’s important to think of feminism not just in terms of time,” Pitts said. “We think about the typical waves of feminism … it’s also important to think about feminism in terms of space. In terms of different countries or cultures and the way that people there engage with issues of feminism.”

Pitts shared the story of Chinese author Ding Ling’s advocacy for women’s rights in wartime China. Ding Ling grew up in a time considered to be “natural humiliation.” China had a lack of political and economic independence with Western imperialism and colonialism with the addition of war with Japan. Chinese traditions were perceived as “backward,” particularly women’s rights.

Chinese men were actively fighting for women’s rights including advocating for the abolition of footbinding, access to education and employment. Ding Ling’s single mother’s fight for education attracted her to “the promise of national feminism,” becoming a woman in the new China.

“She started to realize that there was still limitations of the ability of women to be free,” Pitts said. “You were still not able to have a real strong role in politics. You still weren’t able to have full economic rights and get the same kinds of jobs men could.”

Ding Ling went on to write “Miss Sophie’s Diary,” rocking China’s literary world presenting the idea of women having sexual desires. Chinese women at the time were not allowed to express their emotions to someone else. Ding Ling wrote what she wanted to, but she still suffered from societal limitations.

“She was promised of this world that would be equal,” Pitts said. “A woman would be treated the same as a male. She didn’t end up experiencing it that way.”

Ding Ling wrote an essay that she knew would cause tension. “Thoughts on March 8” is about the social pressures of women to marry and the challenges for them to achieve greatness in politics and the economy. Marriage was a difficult choice to express independence from society.

“You reject a marriage, you tell a man you’re not interested that means you might be stuck up or you don’t understand them or you think you’re too good for them,” Pitts said. “Her essay was a lot about the fact there seem to be so many choices for women … but the reality through social pressures that wasn’t quite so easy. There was no good choices, every single choice was a bad one.”

Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, associate professor of legal studies, took the audience to South Asia and presented on “Women’s Equality as the Key to Annihilating Caste Discrimination.” Caste is the system of dividing society into hereditary classes commonly known in Hindu culture. It also controls and regulates what a woman can do with her body.

Illustration by (Sarah Hardiman)

“The caste system depends on the control of women,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “You have practices like the social death of widows because your existence then becomes problematic if it’s not in the context of the marriage.”

Gadkar-Wilcox explored the topic of invisible and routine violence of the caste, also the politics of the Black Lives Matters movement and the visibility it brings to the missing margin of experience.

“When people say ‘All Lives Matter’ what are they missing?” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “They’re missing what happens, the kind of unique experience that is faced when you are facing public acts of violence that just get largely ignored.”

Similarly in India, the Dalit movement protests untouchability, casteism and superstitions. The movement helped women receive access to employment.

Women in sports

Senior Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Support Kristen Casamento and Associate Athletic Director for Business and Administration Alyssa Hyatt discussed several examples of women creating their paths in sports and impact for others.

For instance, they referenced how female tennis player Billie Jean King paved the way for Venus and Serena Williams to experience their successes by competing in the “Battle of the Sexes.”

While female athletes are at the forefront of the women in sports movement, Casamento and Hyatt brought up both sports management and sports broadcasting in their presentations.

The appreciation for Quinnipiac women’s sports has been underwhelming compared to the men’s teams according to Camille Manley, intramurals supervisor.

“You’d see such a big turnout for the men’s ice hockey, and you won’t see as much for the women doing just as good,” Manley said. “Even our women’s basketball team is ranked much higher than our men’s team, yet you see a lower turnout for the women’s team. What’s the purpose of that? Just because they’re a different gender, they shouldn’t be getting the same amount of (crowdfunding)?”

Quinnipiac club sports faced issues where the men’s volleyball team was allowed to practice in the Burt Kahn court, but the women’s team did not have access.

“They didn’t have a valid reason why,” Manley said. “One of the co-captains spoke up to (Director of Campus Life for Recreation) Mike Medina saying we should be able to have the same resources as the men do on campus.”

The women’s club volleyball team has practiced in Burt Kahn for the majority of this academic year, but Medina said there were scheduling conflicts that moved them to the recreation center.

Outside of Quinnipiac, women basketball players faced a lack of resources last year during the NCAA tournament. Male athletes were provided luxurious gyms and locker rooms meanwhile, the women had a locker room the size of a classroom with a curtain to separate the fitness room.

“There is no answer that the NCAA executive leadership led by Mark Emmert can give to explain the disparities,” wrote South Carolina women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley in a statement last year. “The real issue is not the weights or the ‘swag’ bags; it’s that they did not think or do not think that the women’s players ‘deserve’ the same amenities of the men … it is sad that the NCAA is not willing to recognize and invest in our growth despite its claims of togetherness and equality.”

Illustration by (Sarah Hardiman)

Women in arts

J.T. Torres, assistant teaching professor of English, and Emma McMain, a PhD candidate in educational psychology at Washington State University, discussed the narrative constructions of white women leaders in fictional works written by men.

They emphasized that women leaders in literature or film are often given unrealistic expectations in terms of personality, environmental situations and plot, which can be daunting to the reader or viewer.

“The problem itself in our research and our experience is not so much the particular story being told that powerful women are cool or badass,” Torres said. “Let’s tell those stories. We just don’t want that to close off other stories. And when those powerful aspects become associated with other hierarchical qualities like whiteness class, etc., we close off the possibilities of what can be.”

Part-time faculty member Brooks Appelbaum, with student performers Nicolas Vazquez and Kaitlyn Kelly, did an excerpt from the play “Pygmalion.”

“Pygmalion is a story of transformation,” Appelbaum said. “On the face of it, it may not be seen as a feminist story.”

The performance followed Eliza Doolittle, played by Kelly, demanding her independence after she’s been disrespected because of her appearance and speech dialect.

Alice Mahon, secretary of Fourth Wall Theater, took the microphone to share the women’s empowerment within the organization. Fourth Wall put on productions “Proof” in the fall and “Little Women” on April 1-3, focusing themes on women.

“For the first time in Fourth Wall’s history, we produced a fully female executive board which proved much different in years past,” Mahon said. “The (executive) board which quickly became the ‘girl-bosses of theater’ had the primary responsibility of selecting the show that the organization will be putting on for the year ahead. We decided to stick to the theme of women empowerment, feministic ideals and women-driven productions.”

Women striving for a better future

Professor of entrepreneurship and strategy Patrice Luoma also pushed students to take advantage of Quinnipiac’s resources, including the annual Pitch Contest, which is taking place on April 7. The contest is an opportunity for student-run businesses to get funding. 

“We are here to provide you with not only mentoring but money to grow your business,’ Luoma said.

Luoma brought up multiple current and former Quinnipiac students who have started their businesses and careers. One such student was Class of 2021 member McKenna Haz, who founded SEAVV Athletics, a clothing brand that uses recycled plastic in products, while she was a student.

Ambar Pagan, a senior political science major, presented a conversation on women’s participation in politics both as a politician and voter.

Ambar Pagan, a senior political science major, presented on the overall lack of female representation in US politics. Photo by (Autumn Driscoll)

Pagan shared several statistics regarding the lack of female representation in politics. Currently, women only make up 27% of Congress despite making up  50.8% of the U.S. population. Only 9% of Congress is made up of women of color when they are around 20% of the population.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women also vote more than men. In 2020, it was reported that over 10 million more women were registered to vote than men.

“I remember the campaign of Hillary Clinton, I was in the living room with my family and a family member told me that a woman could not go into politics and be president of the United States,” Pagan said. “There needs to be a change in U.S. politics, but also in global politics.”

In the same vein of discussion about representation, senior political science and psychology major Ana Allen explained how she finds representation in the world around her.

Allen said that having role models is vital to inspire and motivate you, but as a woman, role models are not nearly as common.

“I always have asked myself this question: If women are paid less and put in less positions of power … why are we always expected to find role models so easily?” Allen said.

However, she has found some figures she would consider role models. Some of Allen’s examples included author Maya Angelou, professor and activist Angela Davis and French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon.

Hillary Haldane, professor of anthropology, said that there’s a need for feminist leadership in sexual violence climate surveys. A new bill concerning sexual misconduct on college campuses was passed by the House of Representatives last summer. Undergraduates fought for the law which protects students who report sexual assault, violence or stalking. The law also establishes colleges to survey students on sexual misconduct every two years.

Although the survey is meant to give all victims or witnesses of sexual assault a voice, Haldane said it fails to be inclusive to everyone and fails to take into account students’ experiences outside of the university setting. She said that we should work on making every institution violence-free so a sexual violence climate survey is no longer needed.

Lauren Jerram, a first-year senator of the Student Government Association and Jack Weitsen, former SGA multicultural and identity senator, discussed the potential of bringing a women’s center to Quinnipiac. This initiative began in 2020 when 73.3% of students said yes to a women’s center on campus through a survey created by the SGA.

The women’s center aimed to provide resources for things that primarily affect people who identify as female, such as eating disorders, safe sex, cancer screenings, family planning and pregnancies. The environment will also be a safe space for victims of sexual misconduct and relationship violence. To remain inclusive, the institution will also provide LGBTQ community inclusive services and resources for men. As the environment is open to everyone, SGA is considering the idea of calling it the “gender center.”

International Women’s Day is so much more than appreciating those in your everyday lives. It strives for a better and more inclusive world for women to live in.