March is Women’s History Month, and here at UCCS, students, staff and faculty are using spaces on campus to celebrate and uplift students who identify as women as they face challenges and adversity due to their gender.
On Wednesday, March 12, Student Life and MOSAIC hosted a Women’s History Month kickoff, inviting four influential UCCS women to discuss how they navigate their professional and personal lives both on and off campus.
MOSAIC Coordinator Alé Ruiz prefaced the panel with a brief history of Women’s History Month. Starting out as Women’s History Week, Ruiz explained how March has been nationally recognized as Women’s History Month since 1987, and is a “time to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture
, and our overall society.”
Following Ruiz, director of DEI Education and Outreach Sloan Gonzales, who moderated the event, welcomed panelists Madeline Metzger, a nursing science major; Sabrina Wienholtz, former director of student clubs, organizations and leadership at UCCS; Nayda Benitez, a former UCCS student and organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Henrietta Williams Pichon, dean of the College of Education.
When asked to discuss womanhood and femininity, some panelists mentioned how resistance to social ideas have played a defining role in their identity. Others cited the role of race, and how navigating misogynistic, predominantly white institutions have affected their perception of womanhood and their ability to freely inhabit feminine spaces.
Recounting her experience as a student athlete, Metzger pointed out that as a woman, she felt she had to constantly prove she was capable enough to play sports. She felt she traded in her female identity for respect and acceptance from her peers.
“Feminine is not known to be something that is ‘strong,’ which is completely a lie,” Metzger said. “[I was] trying to act in a way that was less feminine for more masculine positions … I didn’t think I could be both feminine and strong.”
Identifying her race as a factor that precedes her “womanness,” Pichon explained when she walks into a room, her Blackness is what people tend to notice first.
“It kind of overshadows everything,” she said. “I think Sojourner Truth’s words just really ring home, like ‘Ain’t I a Woman Too? But sometimes it gets put on the back burner, because you have to deal with the ethnic issues that arise from that.”
Next, panelists were asked to consider how women can create safer spaces for each other, and whether the community at large should play a larger role in that responsibility.
“I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to create safety for women. It is our obligation to one another in community and in society,” said Wienholtz.
Wienholtz said that as a white, cisgendered woman, it is her job to accept when someone tells her that they want to be included in a space as a woman, and embracing them with open arms.
“I don’t pretend to know the right language to use all of the time, [but] I do know that it is my responsibility to accept,” she said.
Benitez also weighed in, discussing the evolving nature of community organizing when it comes to advocating for women’s rights. “Feminist … spaces haven’t always been very welcoming to me, and I think that’s changing,” she said. “We’re talking about different racial justice issues like police brutality and other really prevalent issues in the local community. Those are also women’s rights issues.”
In closing, panelists were asked to discuss what being a woman means to them. Some cited how learning more about gender and existing as a woman has evolved their understanding of other social issues. Others considered how being a woman meant something different depending on what stage of life they were in.
“Growing up, I had a really close group of girl friends, and we were in constant competition with one another, and that was really harmful for the way that I related with others,” Benitez said, “Thankfully, while I was at UCCS … my student involvement introduced me to a lot of women that even after I graduated are still in my life.”
Pichon, on a slightly different note, talked about how being a woman has allowed her to reach a point where she is loving life, taking things as they come and not worrying how others perceive her.
“I haven’t really been giving a lot of thought to my womaness like I said earlier, and I’m feeling comfortable with that,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but I just … don’t worry about what I wear [anymore]. If it looks good to me, that’s what I’m wearing.”
Students interested in learning more about and celebrating women’s achievements this month can follow MOSAIC on Instagram, where they are posting facts about women’s history and highlighting influential women at UCCS.
Photo from lenfestinstitute.org