On Friday, Mar. 18, 2019, students trickled in to the Lower Level John A. Barone Campus Center to celebrate Women’s History month with the Second Annual International Women’s Day Fair, co-sponsored by the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Student Engagement.
Students explored a variety of tables composed of student clubs and organizations that either are women-centered or speak about women’s issues. Along with the colorful posters, interactive activities and knowledge about International Women’s Day, the fair also welcomed vendors from local businesses owned by women.
Amber Atwood, program coordinator for the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, welcomed everybody as they arrived and announced that this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is gender balance, using #balanceforbetter.
“The fight for gender equality and gender balance is not one, even though some people think it is, and it’s important for everyone to think about it because gender balance is what makes communities thrive,” said Atwood.
Atwood introduced the fair’s three main events that would take place: a spoken word performance by Aarushi Vijay ‘22 and special guest speaker Tonya Oden McNair, who is a licensed social work and program manager for the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services for Individual and Family Supports Division West Region. She was then joined on a panel by Janie Leatherman Ph.D., chair of politics and director of humanitarian action at Fairfield University, Katie Byrnes, campus minister for social justice and community engagement at Fairfield University and Diandre Clarke ‘18, Fairfield University alumna, current graduate student in Dolan School of Business and chief executive officer of Simply Belle, an organization that empowers young women on the local level. The panel discussion was led by Jasmine Raghunandan, program coordinator for the Office of Student Engagement focusing on graduate, part-time and international student life.
Vijay explained that her performance was a acknowledgment of the years of oppression that women have suffered in the past. While the audience’s response to her performance gave her a boost of confidence, she still fears that women have a long way to go.
“I would say it’s still not an equal world and I think we are still fighting for it,” said Vijay.
Vijay wished that more women and men would acknowledge Women’s History Month and women in general. She argues that women just tear each other down because they are taught to do so when in reality, women need to support each other.
Atwood expanded upon to some of the ways that women are still oppressed in today’s society. She believes that oppression begins for women at a young age.
“I think a lot of young girls are told that they can’t do certain things: they can’t play sports, they can’t do science or math, they can’t be engineers, they can’t be astronauts, and that stays with you,” said Atwood. “When you grow into a woman, if you are told as a child that you can’t do these things, you just automatically don’t even think about doing those things, whereas boys are told that they can. So, we just have to change that mindset starting from when they are children.”
With the idea that women still feel that they are being oppressed after so many years, students just like Julia Nojeim ‘19 are fighting to raise awareness of issues women continue to face today. Nojeim, along with the Students for Social Justice, plan to raise awareness of the issues that women face in the workplace, whether it be in government, industry etc. Their goal is to promote different ways that woman can be treated equally. Their poster board display even included to acknowledge a handful of women they thought to be influential: Michelle Obama, Oprah, Emma Watson, Demi Lovato and more.
Nojeim commented that, “It’s great to build community that way. Just seeing all these different groups on campus come together that share the same values for promoting women equalities and it’s nice to know that everybody is fighting for the same cause.”
One student at the event, Kajal Gopwani ‘21, reflected on the importance of International Women’s Day.
“I want to celebrate the elegance of womanhood and I wanted to get people an idea that international women’s day is for women to project their voice, for giving them equal rights, and for giving them support that they are amazing, strong, and they are beautiful as they are.”
Gopwani, who also advocates for women’s rights, wanted to express that women need to be aware of how strong they are and that they have support among other women. She mentioned very real challenges that women continue to face on a daily basis: sexual assault, domestic violence, bullying, pressure of the ideal standards of woman especially on social media.
Gopwani feels that because so many women are still facing these issues today, that women can teach each other by mentoring, supporting and embracing their qualities and who they are by being strong, developing skills and supporting each other. This is essential for women to succeed.
According to Tonya McNair, the guest speaker, if women want to see change and want things to change, women have to get involved. To see the change, women have to be the change.