For Jenna Robinson, it’s her incredibly supportive mom. For Cameron Westcott, it’s his amazing group of female friends in the music department. For Kendrick Madore, it’s inspiring voice actresses behind his favorite childhood TV show, Steven Universe. Women play such an influential role in the world, and Castleton is striving to reflect that this Women’s History Month.
It’s impossible to discuss female empowerment at Castleton without first acknowledging a backbone of the university’s history, prior Associate Dean of Students, Victoria Angis. Following her recent retirement in fall 2021, March 1st was officially declared VA Day, a perfect way to kickstart a month of celebrating women.
“She’s been such a foundation here,” said Amy Bremel, member of the WHM Committee. “Her contributions are endless, her passions around the month in particular.”
Bremel added that it’s different without Angis’ full-time involvement. Little things like decorations, gifts and reminders to guests, and information aren’t as organized as Angis had it for so many years. But don’t be fooled by her retirement status. She’s definitely still around.
Fellow member, Elicia Pinsonault, referenced someone joking to Angis, “’You’re really bad at retiring.’” Working at CU for over 40 years makes it understandably difficult for her to stay away. It’s because of this undying loyalty that she inspires the WHM Committee in what they wish to bring to campus and continue celebrating.
One of these special events is “Every Woman Has a Story,” featuring weekly presentations from the CU community, including staff, faculty, students, and alumna.
Rachel Sawyer, another member of the committee, recently gave a presentation on her journey with crocheting, a talent that she has recently developed over the course of the pandemic. Presentation topics range from lighthearted and funny to intense and vulnerable. The direction is completely up to the speaker, with the only requirement being that the stories are personal.
Bremel commented on the unpredictability of the stories, saying, “sometimes you know a person really well, but you don’t know the story they’re going to tell.”
She went on to discuss the women that have had a major impact on her life. Without a doubt, she immediately responded with her mother.
“If you’re blessed with a good one, moms are our historian and our documentarian,” she said. “They know every crush, they know every breakup, they know every friend fight.”
She also discussed other mother-figures in her life, including a woman she babysat for in middle school and high school, that was “a rock getting through her adolescence,” and her host mom while abroad in Scotland, who was “very influential in choosing her current career.”
There were many others eager to share their gratitude for their mothers. Pinsonault shared that her mother grew up in a home “with a lot of love, but not a lot of money,” and worked tirelessly to provide her children with more opportunities than she’d had.
“She passed away when I was sixteen from cancer, but I continued to look up to her as my guiding light for what it means to be a strong, independent woman,” she concluded.
CU psychology professor, Dr. Megan Blossom, discussed her own experience as a mother of four, and the challenges of balancing her home and work life.
“I feel like on one day, I can either be a good professor or a good mother,” she said. “Not at the same time, not on the same day. I have to make peace that it’s a constant work in progress. It’s never going to be all figured out.”
She also raised other challenges mothers face, such as the expense and inaccessibility of childcare, insufficient maternity leaves and toxic gender stereotypes pushed on children. She emphasized the importance of modeling gender nonconformity to children and allowing them to authentically express themselves.
Blossom has a great deal of faith in today’s generation of CU students for future parenthood, specifically because of the open-mindedness she’s observed. “I think you guys are going to be a great generation of students if you choose to have children someday,” she said.
Like Dr. Blossom, there are many other female teachers who play an incredible role, both on campus and beyond. Cale Santee spoke highly of his 9th grade English teacher, saying, “She shaped me into the person I am today” and recalled memories from their school trip to China. Similarly, Maddie Besaw is forever grateful for her band director from high school, declaring, “everybody respects her. She’s always wanted what’s best for us and for everyone to do the best they could.”
Julie Leppo especially looks up to two female leaders on campus, Rachel Sayward and Marissa Valent-Altland.
“They’re both women that I really look up to because the energy that they have is so good and the passion they have for their work is so strong.”
Leppo also acknowledged the challenges women face in the workplace, saying “I think a lot of people don’t take women seriously in a lot of leadership roles.”
Rachel Sayward agreed, going on to share her own work experiences in male-dominated settings.
“It’s not lost on me when I sit in a room, whether that’s serving on a committee for my town or other volunteer aspects, when I’m surrounded by mostly older men who might assume I’m younger than I am or not as educated as I am, or maybe not as qualified to be in the room, and how they speak to me versus other men.”
Sayward emphasized the importance of self-advocacy. She advised to “insert yourself in conversations and speak up for yourself if you feel like you’re not being treated fairly or equally. Nothing gets better if we don’t talk about it.”
Extending from workplace inequality, Bremel also discussed female discrimination in the social justice system. She referenced Cansadra Speaks by Elizabeth Lesser, a novel inspired by the myth of Greek goddess Cansandra, cursed by Apollo that no one would believe her true prophecies. Bremel believes it to be an accurate analogy to women being unrightfully doubted in legal matters.
She concluded with a piece of advice and praise for all women and those that identify on the female spectrum.
“Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and be you. Be real. Don’t try to be somebody else. Be you.”