Josie Howell, Sports Editor
On Monday, March 2, Jacksonville State University’s Women’s Empowerment Committee began Women’s History Month by hosting a woman’s lunch and learn where students, alumni and faculty members were invited to listen to a panel of female faculty members and students who work for the university to talk about how we can better support and empower the female students at JSU.
Veronica Bjorkman, the assistant dean of students and SGA advisor, served as the moderator for the panel of women.
The analysts for this event were: Julie Nix, who works as a counselor and in the office of Disability Support Service; Jimmeka Leverette, career advisor for JSU Career Services; Dr. Teresa Reed, an english professor and advisor for all English majors; Rachel Miller, president of the Women’s Issues Support and Empowerment group at JSU; and Kathleen Seibert, SGA vice president of public relations.
There were multiple topics discussed during the event, including women in higher education, the 100-year anniversary of women having the right to vote and how to overall better empower the women who call JSU home.
Bjorkman began the event by asking what women’s empowerment looks like at JSU. Reed mentioned that she feels mentoring and advocating for female students is extremely important from a faculty member’s point of view.
“There are some issues that I may have faced as a woman [that can help me mentor] such as being told to smile more in the hallway, for example,” said Reed
Nix added that Jacksonville State needs to focus on removing certain barriers that are specific to female students.
“I was looking at the demographics in undergraduate students and graduate students. Our [student] population is largely female, around 60 percent,” said Nix. “I asked if JSU is different from other institutions and I was told no, it looks like this [with other colleges] nationally, and has been since the 80’s.”
“There are all of these women in higher education, but in my position, I still see [female] students who have significant barriers in higher education, so I think we need to eliminate those barriers,” said Nix. “College women are more likely to test higher for anxiety and depression and have this fear of failure.”
The analysts were then asked about any adversaries that they may have faced or currently face as a woman. Miller discussed the challenges that she faces on a daily basis as not only a woman, but an Afircan-American woman.
“Being an African American female on a predominantly white campus, there are a lot of stigmas that come with being an English major where people feel like you have to act a certain way or look a certain way to be as intelligent as you are,” said Miller.
“My personality is admittedly pretty wild,” said Miller. “I’m very happy, talkative and always doing cartwheels in the hallway and people don’t tie that with being intelligent. That’s something I deal with constantly… people don’t tie that [kind of personality] with being an intelligent black woman.”
The woman continued to talk about how we can better empower women at JSU specifically. Some of the things discussed were support for pregnant parenting student, recruiting female students in the STEM fields, ensuring a safe and respectful culture on campus including being free from harassing language, discrimination, personal abuse and all of things that are covered under Title XI.
Leverette went on to talk about her personal experience empowering women through her work in career services.
“I’ve worked with quite a few female students recently who say they are in male dominated fields. One specific student I talked to recently said that she just wanted to be accepted within the field [of occupational safety and health engineering],” said Leverette. “What I wanted to let her know, in this instance, was that she didn’t need to fight to be accepted, but that her main goal was to accept the fight to be who she wanted to be.”
The women continued the discussion by talking about the specific barriers that women in deeply conservative states, such as Alabama, face as opposed to those in blue or purple states.
“I think that living in a bible belt state, not only do we have to face ‘this is how a woman is supposed to act’ but also ‘this is what the bible says a woman is supposed to do.’ In recent years, women have tried to create their own identities for themselves, outside of being a mother and a wife, but there has been a lot of push back,” said Miller.
“I don’t want to say we face more obstacles living [in a deeply conservative state] as compared to women in California or New York, but I do think living in the south comes with a completely different playing field for women,” said Miller.
Nix added to this by discussing the feminization of poverty in Alabama.
“Women and children are more likely to live in poverty. So, it’s very interesting that in Alabama we rank 48 in the gender-wage gap. In Calhoun County specifically, 58 percent of the moms with children are living in poverty,” said Nix.
“I do think that in our state there are other challenges that women face in terms of, for example, what we earn. [Women] earn about 73 and a half cents on every dollar that a man in the same job earns in Alabama,” said Nix.
Bjorkman closed the panel by addressing the 100-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. The women were asked what having the right to vote means to them. For Seibert specifically, this will be her first year voting in a national election.
“This will be my first year to vote and to me that means the world. For me personally, I’m going to do what I think is best, but regardless of what happens, I am proud of the strides that women have been making and I have no doubt that we will continue to make those strides,” said Seibert. “[Women] are not being ignored at this point and you can’t ignore us unless you were to ignore over half of the population.”
JSU will continue Women’s History Month on Monday, March 9 where Alabama Senator and JSU Trustee Vivian Davis Figures, will present the Women’s History Month Keynote Address at 4 p.m. at the Leone Cole Auditorium.
Senator Figures’ address will be followed by a reception and awards for JSU Woman Student of the Year, JSU Woman Faculty/Staff/Administrator of the Year, and JSU Gender Advocate of the Year.
For a full list of JSU’s Women’s History Month events, students and faculty can visit the arts and humanities page at www.jsu.edu/arts-humanties/women-history-month.html.