Castleton’s Women’s History Month goes beyond simply empowering women and into the realm of discovering how the story of one can affect the whole community.
“It is a celebration and recognition of women’s important contributions to society,” said Melinda Mills, coordinator of the women’s and gender studies program at Castleton. “These contributions have improved everyone’s lives, not just that of women.”
Mills stressed how important it is to see issues as not just belonging to women, but in the best interest of everyone.
“Reframing women’s issues as social issues or public health issues implicates everyone” Mills said. “Issues like access to jobs and living wages, affordable education…and other issues become everyone’s concerns, and thus everyone’s shared responsibility.”
Beginning in 1988 as a small celebration of International Women’s Day, March 8, the event has grown into a month-long recognition of women and their achievements.
Victoria Angis, Dean of Campus Life, has been involved in the celebration for many years. She finds the month important because it is still a rather untouched subject.
“Women’s history is not taught often or much in depth,” she said. “The more you learn the more you see how crucial women are and what lessons are to be learned.”
In the early years, awards were given to successful women in the community, to recognize Vermont women who were making a difference. While fun, it was more celebratory than educational, and did not include many students, Angis said.
One of the longest running traditions is the equity bake sale. Women make roughly 75 percent of what men make, doing the same work. So, at the bake sale, women are charged 75 cents while men are charged $1. The proceeds go to charity.
“It’s for a good cause,” Angis said. “It’s also fun and a way of learning about inequity.”
Another long-standing event is the “Every Woman Has a Story” program, which runs every Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. during the month of March in the Huden Alumni Room. Women from campus and the community are asked to share their stories. Some tell of their academic achievements while others focus on individuals who impacted their lives.
Angis came up with this idea while visiting her mother in the hospital. Oprah was on television with a segment dedicated to telling the stories of random individuals. Angis was searching for something to replace the awards and landed on the idea of having women tell their stories.
“I said ‘This is it! This is it!” Angis said excitedly. “But instead of everyone has a story, every woman has a story!”
The event has had over 100 speakers since its beginning in 2003. Most presenters are faculty or staff with a few students and community members.
Fardoos Mohamed, a senior social work and sociology major, was nominated to speak this year. She told the audience about her mother and how she and her siblings were inspired and protected by this amazing woman.
In her speech, she described her mother as “a strong woman that taught me that education is the most important thing in life and being an independent woman is what every woman needs to do.”
Mohamed, who was born in Somalia and raised in Yemen, came to the United States in 2008. She found the experience of sharing her story to be very powerful.
“Standing in front of so many people was something,” Mohamed said. “It felt okay just answering questions, sharing my culture with other people.”
Mohamed noted that when she arrived at Castleton three years ago, it was not very diverse and people did not know how to react to her appearance and accent. By sharing stories and promoting cultural awareness, the Castleton community has warmed-up to the idea of different cultures.
“Storytelling and truth-telling prove powerful tools for sharing our experiences,” Mills said. “These stories take great courage and bravery to tell, and reflect similar qualities in the speakers: courage and bravery.”
Mohamed agrees that having women tell their stories is incredibly important.
“It is good to recognize women. Back in history, women did not have power. People are more proud today to see women in the world,” she said.
Angis’ favorite part of the month is the planning stage where a committee of mostly women get to meet and share ideas.
“It’s a group of women with different skills, interests and backgrounds all collaborating” she said. She added how empowering it feels to be in a group of determined women, working together for a unified purpose.
While the program is already very full and exciting, Angis has big dreams for the future.
“I’d love to have Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Oprah or Beyonce,” Angis said with a chuckle.
She added that she’d love to see women speak from all areas of academia including medicine, science and politics.
“It’s not just the famous ones,” she said. “Women everywhere are doing amazing thing.”