Women's History Month

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Issues facing women both in the U.S. and abroad will be the focus of the Women's History Month talks this month.

Carolina Rocha, professor of Spanish and Latin American studies, is the director of the Women’s Studies Program, which coordinates Women’s History Month programming. She said she wanted to bring awareness to the problems that women around the world face, as well as the diversity of women’s experiences.

“One of the goals is to educate [students into] well-rounded citizens. So I wanted to bring awareness to what other women are experiencing outside the U.S. borders. So many of the activities that women do go unnoticed,” Rocha said.

Rocha said she reached out to female professors to speak during the month because she wants to highlight the important work many of them are doing. She said Sonal Vij, one of the speakers,is a grad student at SIUC and will speak on issues faced by women in Pakistan using examples from the entertainment industry of how women are fighting back against negative stereotypes. 

“[Vij] is doing a great deal of research that complements what we're doing on campus. I thought that it would be neat to have that different perspective, but also a complementary view,” Rocha said. 

Masonya Bennett, an assistant professor of anthropology, will be speaking on ‘The Labor of Diaspora: Black Women, Resistance and Sustainability in the Americas.’ She said the talk will speak to the importance that Black women played in creating spaces of belonging in the US throughout history. 

“The role of women in resistance movements, of Black women in particular, and resistance movements throughout the diaspora,” Bennett said. “My research focused on Black immigrant identity in Charlotte, North Carolina, and part of that was looking at spaces and places, and how Black immigrants and Black Americans create places or spaces of belonging.”

Bennett said a large part of Women’s History Month is acknowledging the extended kinship that women create through mothers, grandmothers, mother figures in any form. 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 those women’s mentorship influenced her trajectory, towards being an educator herself.. 

Bennett said motherhood to her is any type of nurturing relationships, including aunties, mothering in the LGBTQ+ community, and leaders of organizations and clubs. 

“Women's history is recognizing lineages, historical lineages, spiritual lineages and connection, but also the sacred bond and the sacred role of motherhood,” Bennett said. “My grandmother, Glennie Bennett, did so much in our small community in the south. My mother, Winnie Bennett, has been a vital part of my life as well.” 

Rocha said one of the talks is given by Jocelyn DeGroot, who is a professor of applied communication studies. DeGroot’s talk, “"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 in the home, which translates to less recognition of their labor outside the home. 

“All those tiny little things usually fall on women. For instance, buying presents for children to go to birthday parties. It takes time and energy to do this,” Rocha said. “If you take a look, women in leadership positions are in the extreme minority in the U.S., so how can we bring the energy that women produce and use to the forefront [of our minds]?” 

Steven Kerber, the university archivist and unique collection librarian, had created a history on women faculty and staff who were part of the university beginning back in 1957. He said there were seven full-time female faculty members when SIUE opened and that often the wives of faculty members would offer to teach classes part-time during the first few years of the university.

He said as an archivist, it is his job to remember and give credit to those members of faculty and staff who may not have been paid as much attention to in the past. 

“We all have to remember and give credit to the people who have built the university over the years. Unfortunately, not as much attention has been paid to female faculty members, not enough attention has been paid to African American faculty members,” Kerber said. 

Kerber said there were many influential and important women who contributed to SIUE but one he believes left a huge impact on the school was Eva Driekurus Ferguson, a psychology professor.

“Dr. Eva Dreikurus Ferguson, a much-beloved faculty member from the Department of Psychology is as far as I know the longest-serving woman faculty member.  Dr. Ferguson taught at SIUE from 1965 until 2019, a truly remarkable achievement worthy of note,” Kerber said. 

Rocha said to her, Women’s History Month is looking back on the advancements that society has made, but also looking forward to the work that still needs to be done. 

“For me, [Women’s History Month] means reflecting on how far we have come and also being aware of the work [that] is still ahead of us,” Rocha said. 

For a full list of events and Zoom links, go to the Women’s Studies website. 

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