Women’s Week enhances students’ education through exposure to new ideas
Published February 27, 2012
Erienne Fawcett’s coming out as a feminist occurred her senior year at NDSU when she took her first women and gender studies course. That’s when she realized many of her feelings and beliefs meshed with feminist principles. She is now co-chair of Women’s Week and lecturer in women and gender studies at NDSU.
Not every student will take a women’s studies course and have a feminist epiphany. But Women’s Week is an opportunity for students to be exposed to ideas they may not encounter in other settings, which is part of a well-rounded education, said Ann Burnett, professor of communication, director of the women and gender studies program and associate dean for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
“You may not agree with what you hear, but that is part of learning and growing,” Burnett said. “Or maybe you are exposed to an idea you hadn’t thought about in that way and want to pursue learning more about it.”
The 30th annual Women’s Week at NDSU is scheduled Feb. 27 to March 2 to highlight issues unique to women and to celebrate contributions women have made. The week has a diverse slate of events that cover careers, athletics, film, music, cultural differences and sexual orientation. “There is room for everyone in Women’s Week,” said Regina Ranney, Women’s Week co-chair and diversity program coordinator. “Anyone can connect with something.”
Feminist principles applied
Women’s Week at NDSU started as a grassroots initiative to highlight women’s experiences in society, said Sandy Holbrook, former director for equity and diversity at NDSU. Holbrook was involved in Women’s Week from its second year until she retired in 2007.
Early organizers “worked really hard at trying to share leadership and model a feminist approach,” Holbrook said. Collective and collaborative is how Laura Oster-Aaland, director for Orientation and Student Success, and Larry Peterson, professor in history, philosophy and religious studies, describe the process.
Oster-Aaland, who got involved as a graduate student and later took a leadership role, said organizers discussed issues until they agreed and everyone contributed to the effort. If someone had an idea for a presentation, for example, they became responsible for making it happen. “It’s a good example of feminist principles in organizing and planning,” said Peterson, who served on the planning committee for 19 years and gave a variety of Women’s Week presentations.
That approach, perhaps, has contributed to the longevity of Women’s Week as leadership roles have shifted to pairs of younger women who share responsibilities. Holbrook also worked to create a formal budget, so future organizers would have financial resources they could count on.
As Women’s Week established credibility, it became easier to collaborate with different departments, Holbrook said. Today, a variety of people from a variety of departments are involved in planning and presenting, Burnett said.
The planning committee solicits proposals for presentations from campus to encourage a range of voices, Ranney said. Fawcett, who has been co-chair for four years, has noticed new groups getting involved every year, which adds to the richness of the programming. Participation also has increased as more faculty encourage students to attend the events.
Peterson describes Women’s Week as a model for other weeks, such as Coming Out Week, that focus on groups normally underrepresented in the mainstream culture and the issues they face. “The weeks serve an important role because they highlight these groups,” Holbrook said.
An enhanced education
Women’s Week is beneficial for men, too. Peterson believes it’s important for men to be involved in Women’s Week to be part of the solution. He also noted that women’s issues become men’s issues when mothers, girlfriends, wives or daughters deal with gender-related problems.
Over the years, Women’s Week programming has shifted from focusing on women’s experiences to understanding how gender issues affect women and men in both positive and negative ways. “I think that is reflective of what’s happening in society,” Holbrook said.
One of the strengths of Women’s Week is its long-standing commitment to including diverse perspectives in the programming, Peterson said. This year, for example, participants can learn about and discuss the effects of lesbian couples not being able to legally marry. Another presentation focuses on the five stages of becoming a Dakota woman.
The programming changes from year to year to address what’s happening in society, but organizers plan some regular features, such as a movie that ties into the year’s theme. This year’s movie, The Help, ties to the theme, Run the World, by showing women taking charge of their lives.
Oster-Aaland said participation in Women’s Week planning and events definitely enhanced her NDSU education. The planning committee served the purpose of planning and holding the events, but the members served a greater purpose, too, by being role models and mentors to students and younger people in the group, she said.
She looked up to the committee members because of their professional success and their knowledge of feminist history, theory, writers and speakers. “I was schooled in feminism through that group,” she said.