Issues facing women in the United States and abroad will be the focus of Women’s History Month discussions this month.
Carolina Rocha, professor of Spanish and Latin American studies, is the director of the Women’s Studies Program, which coordinates programming for Women’s History Month. She said she wanted to raise awareness of the issues that women around the world face, as well as the diversity of women’s experiences.
“One of the objectives is to educate [students into] well-supported citizens. So I wanted to raise awareness of what other women are going through outside the American borders. So many activities that women do go unnoticed,” Rocha said.
Rocha said she reached out to female professors to speak during the month because she wanted to highlight the important work many of them do. She said that Sonal Vij, one of the speakers, is a graduate student at SIUC and will talk about the issues faced by women in Pakistan using examples from the entertainment industry of how women struggle with negative stereotypes.
“[Vij] does a lot of research that complements what we do on campus. I thought it would be nice to have that different perspective, but also a complementary vision,” Rocha said.
Masonya Bennett, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, will speak “The work of the diaspora: Black Women, Resistance and Durability in the Americas.’ She said the conference will talk about the importance that black women have played in creating spaces of belonging in the United States throughout history.
“The role of women in resistance movements, black women in particular, and resistance movements throughout the diaspora,” Bennett said. “My research has focused on the identity of black immigrants in Charlotte, North Carolina, and part of it has been about spaces and places, and how black immigrants and black Americans create places or spaces of belonging.”
Bennett said much of Women’s History Month recognizes the extended kinship that women create through mothers, grandmothers, mother figures in all their forms. She said those relationships are extremely vital in the black community both historically and for herself. She said she grew up seeing many women who were educators and that the mentorship of these women influenced her trajectory towards being an educator herself.
Bennett said motherhood for her was all kinds of nurturing relationships, including aunts, motherhood in the LGBTQ+ community, and leaders of organizations and clubs.
“Women’s history recognizes lineages, historical lineages, lineages and spiritual connections, but also the sacred bond and the sacred role of motherhood,” Bennett said. “My grandmother, Glennie Bennett, did so much in our little southern community. My mother, Winnie Bennett, also played a vital role in my life.
Rocha said one of the talks is given by Jocelyn DeGroot, who is a professor of applied communication studies. DeGroot’s speech, “”It’s just what moms do” Invisible Labor, Struggling Silently, and Performing Motherhood Flawlessly” will focus on the role of mothers in society and how often women are overlooked for their efforts at home, resulting in less recognition of their work outside the home.
“All those tiny little things usually fall on women. For example, buying gifts for children to go to birthday parties. It takes time and energy to do that,” Rocha said. “If you look, women in leadership positions are in the extreme minority in the United States, so how do we put the energy that women produce and use front and center? [of our minds]?”
Steven Kerber, the university’s archivist and unique collection librarian, had created a story about the female faculty and staff who were part of the university from 1957. He said there was seven full-time female faculty members when SIUE opened and that often faculty members’ wives offered to teach part-time during the early years of the university.
He said that as an archivist, it’s his job to remember and give credit to faculty and staff who may not have received as much attention in the past.
“We must all remember and pay tribute to the people who have built the university over the years. Unfortunately, not as much attention was given to female faculty members, not enough attention was given to African American faculty members,” Kerber said.
Kerber said there are many influential and important women who have contributed to SIUE, but the one he believes has had a huge impact on the school is Psychology Professor Eva Driekurus Ferguson.
“Dr. Eva Dreikurus Ferguson, a highly regarded faculty member in the Department of Psychology is, to my knowledge, the longest serving female faculty member. Dr. Ferguson taught at SIUE from 1965 to 2019, a truly remarkable achievement that deserves recognition,” Kerber said.
Rocha told her that Women’s History Month reflects on the progress society has made, but also on the work that remains to be done.
“To me, [Women’s History Month] means reflecting on the path taken and also being aware of the work [that] is still ahead of us,” Rocha said.
For a full list of Zoom events and links, go to Women’s Studies website.