Women’s History Month panel celebrates intersectional togetherness
By Nora Lubin
On March 27, a discussion panel assembled at HWC to celebrate Women’s History Month. The panel featured Harold Washington College’s Dr. Rosie Banks, Dr. Judy Rivera Van Schagen, Dr. Loretta Visomirskis and City Colleges of Chicago’s President Margie Martyn.
Students were warmly welcomed by the panel members who shared stories and perspectives on feminism, and were then asked to participate in an open discussion on feminist issues facing both women and men. Those in attendance discussed thematic issues of persistence, intersectionality, sociopolitical disempowerment, and success through individual and mutual achievement.
One moment that was particularly gratifying for me was when a male student brought up a question salient to almost all feminist discourse: though I recognize my privilege as a man, is it legitimate to talk about my opinions?
This is sometimes the point where I hold my breath, for fear that some responses to such a controversial topic might not represent feminism the way I think it should be characterized, thus ostracizing a much needed potential ally.
Feminism is, in definition, the belief that men and women deserve equal rights, protections, and opportunities. This quality of inclusion and mutual benefit is what feminism was meant to incite.
Remarkably, the responses to this student’s concerns were both prudent and inclusive. President Martyn, in speaking to this concern, emphasized her hope that Harold Washington College would be welcoming of opinions coming from a place of privilege, and advised that anyone met with backlash should express themselves as coming from a place of learning; after all, is that not what feminism was meant to impart on all of us?
Dr. Rosie Banks was in concurrence, reminding us all that Harold Washington College is an academic institution dedicated to diversity and learning, reaffirming, “every statement is legitimate, because it’s coming from a place of authenticity.”
This brought to mind the concept of intersectionality–the holistic evaluation of feminist perspectives through the lens of multiple identities–which was something Dr. Rivera Van Schagen and Dr. Banks spoke on. Inclusion is not a given in traditional (white) feminism; regrettably, intersectional perspectives (i.e. race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability, age, sexuality) had to be fought for by those underprivileged by the privilege of the white female majority.
One student asked us all to remember the work of female leadership that occurs in the global sphere. Intersectionality does not encompass solely American issues.
These are memorable messages to take away from the panel discussion:
“It’s inspiring to see all you women up there, especially a woman who looks like me,” one student expressed.
“You can only show up as you are, in the conversation, and add from your vantage point. So, that authenticity, coupled with respect for the diversity of the opinions around, I think, should support you as you begin to engage in these conversations,” Dr. Banks advised.
We can only reach some level of equality if we work together. It is not just a woman’s issue– it’s a man’s issue; it’s everybody’s issue...Women cannot ask men to give back their rights, because it was not [men’s rights] to give back anyway,” stressed Dr. Rivera Van Schagen.
“Don’t be comfortable with what you have now; reach for the stars. I’m trying to be the next Beyonce in the Medical Field,” another student exclaimed.