Fifty years ago this year, with The Carpenters, The Beatles and Edwin Starr ringing across campus, the first class of female undergraduate students moved in. It’s been a milestone that Fairfield University has pulled out all stops to try and celebrate. 

But, the mission to truly honor this occasion has seemingly been headed by one organization, the Fairfield University Student Association. 

Last semester, FUSA wanted to focus on celebrating the accomplishments of past Fairfield students, and women off-campus. They held two events to do this — one was a panel with former female FUSA presidents, and the other allowed students to hear entrepreneur and activist Shiza Shahid. Students who attended the event were given custom “50 Years of Women” crewneck sweatshirts to further spread the word of this momentous occasion.

This semester, they wanted to focus on the future, and what current female-identifying students are doing in and around campus. 

Members of the FUSA Marketing and Public Relations Board worked on a four-part IGTV video series, and then a digital magazine, that featured female student leaders who have made an impact on their peers. 

“I think it’s important for FUSA to help celebrate this milestone because we represent the student body, and students are the present and future of Fairfield University,” Jaclyn Burns, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for FUSA stated. 

Burns went on to say, “While this anniversary celebrates the accomplishments of women over the past 50 years, it also reminds us that there’s more to come, and that starts right now with female leaders on our campus.” 

The digital magazine was a particularly large feat. It is 27 pages of fully designed content, featuring 23 women who were nominated by their peers to be part of the campaign, for their efforts in making a difference across campus. 

“I felt incredibly grateful to be nominated for my efforts on campus, and that some people saw potential in me,” Chloe Riven ‘21, a student featured in the campaign stated. “My main goal in life is to help others, regardless of the recognition. This nice gesture reinforces my knowledge that what I do for others is appreciated.”

Senior Jessica Castillo agreed, “Honestly, it was such a high honor to know that someone that mentors me or teaches me thought of me as a worthwhile leader, especially during these uncertain times.” 

Senior Stephanie Brij-Raj stated that though the recognition is “awesome” it was not the sole reason for her motivation as a leader, “I do what I do simply because I enjoy it — I know how much I have benefitted from the strong women leaders in my life and they have influenced who I am and how I lead.” 

She went further to state, “I believe that the role of a leader is to positively influence others and this nomination made me feel as though it was being recognized, which is the best outcome I could ask for.”

    Though the milestone is important to celebrate, there is still a focus on the work that still needs to be done, both by FUSA and the woman celebrated. 

“I am fortunate enough to have not experienced gender discrimination on campus but unfortunately, I have witnessed negative experiences regarding gender discrimination on campus,” Brij-Raj stated. “I was a TA for a class composed of two girls and eighteen boys, so the ratio was already skewed.” 

She goes on to state that there was a group project that was composed of one girl and four boys. By the time they were ready to present, they were unable to, as something about the group dynamic was off. 

“One of the professors blamed the whole thing on the one girl in the group and said it was her fault and claimed that as the girl in her group, it was up to her to make sure that the group was communicating well and on track in terms of completing the project,” Brij-Raj continued, “I was completely shocked that this was coming from a professor, as I believe that as a professor, he should be encouraging to his students.” 

Brij-Raj reported this incident but is not sure what ended up coming from it. 

But, this incident taught her that one of the best ways to combat gender discrimination is, “To keep persevering to show that we, as women, are capable of doing what men can do,” she said. “Actions are the most effective form of proof.”

Riven states that she has faced discrimination not necessarily based on gender, but due to, “being a female minority Asian American student that resided in predominantly White surroundings.” 

Though she is studying remotely this semester, on-campus she stated that she has, “Always faced casual racism or heard comments related to my ethnicity. Even if the comments were not intentional or even directed towards me, I would notice discrimination.”

She said that the best way for her to stand up for herself was to take action, and “To be open and honest, upfront and understanding.”

 “I usually do not like to approach any negative situation with hostility, as I believe this will not get people to change for the better. Rather, I appreciate sparking genuine conversations. If we do not talk about problems like discrimination, this will never better the environment we live in,” Riven remarked.

She continued to say that she commends Fairfield University for taking action in vital instances when necessary, such as after the death of George Floyd, and as well as the violence against the Asian and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) after the “devastating” Atlanta shootings.

Many others involved in the campaign stated that the campaign was a step in the right direction in terms of bettering gender equality. 

Senior Kiersten Bjork agreed with this sentiment, but stated, “There is always more to be done.”

Bjork believes that “Making sure to market the women’s sports teams and their events to the same extent that the men’s team are promoted, creating spaces for people outside of the conventional straight, white, able-bodied male box that so many fields and industries expect to be the norm.”

She continued to say it can just be simple alterations to everyday statements, like “men and women” or “ladies and gentlemen” to make them more gender-inclusive to people “thriving outside of those two terms.” 

“Gender equality isn’t just going to come down to lifting up women, it comes from making space and promoting equality for everyone,” Bjork said.

She goes on to say that she thinks Fairfield has made progress in the past few years in terms of equity initiatives. 

“Now, I’m speaking from a place of privilege, but from what I have seen there have been numerous events highlighting women in powerful career positions, pushes for more initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion, and programming from a variety of areas on campus directed at starting conversations about such topics,” she said. 

“In the future, I hope that Fairfield puts more of its resources into creating space for all voices, all bodies, all people. There is a rather specific demographic that people, in many cases, use to frame the Fairfield experience. This is not everyone’s experience, and that needs to be recognized and acted upon,” Bjork stated. 

She wants everyone to challenge Fairfield as an institution, and find ways to use our resources and privilege, “to lift up those who have been marginalized.”

“I look forward to a future in which Fairfield creates an environment in which truly all members of the community, no matter what boxes they check, can live fully and vibrantly in a space that they feel welcome, safe, uplifted, recognized, supported and at home,” Bjork continued, “For some people, this is already the case, but it’s important for us to recognize that it is not the case for all.”

Burns states that she thinks it’s important to look back at the milestones women at Fairfield have achieved, as it allows us to see not only how far we’ve come, but show how women can accomplish “incredible” things. 

“Personally, over my four years here I’ve been so inspired by all the female leaders I have met and worked with, and they influenced me to become a student leader myself,” Burns said. “I think that’s a reason why it’s important to not only look at the past but also everything women are currently achieving because there are female role models on campus of every age.”

Burns continued to say that she thinks, “Fairfield has been doing a great job this year highlighting all the women who have made an impact on our community, but there’s always more to celebrate! As an organization, FUSA has always been committed to honoring women through various programs and initiatives, and I have no doubt that will continue into the future.”

Senior Julia Lombardo, Social Media Manager of FUSA, and a student featured in the campaign stated that she believes the success of the campaign lies in the campus-wide attention now drawn to the female talent of Fairfield’s student body.

She went on to say, “As a university of predominantly females, I hope that this campaign succeeded in showcasing the dynamic impact and value of women on the Fairfield community.”

Burns mentioned that though FUSA has wrapped up its celebration of the anniversary with the marketing campaign, she encourages students to check out the University’s 50th Anniversary of Women website and event calendar, to learn more about what the University is doing to celebrate.

Burns finished by saying she wants to give a shout-out to the team that helped herself and Lily Fenton ‘22 create the campaign materials, which included Julia Lombardo ‘21, Meghan Cusack ‘21, Brianna Perez ‘22, Liv Mahoney ‘23 and Danielle Mank ‘23. 

“I am so proud of all the hard work and creativity they put into this project,” she said.


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