Every year for Women’s History Month at SIUE, a few lucky women are awarded in the Phenomenal Wom*n Awards, a luncheon in which women who have been nominated by colleagues for selfless actions are recognized and awarded for said accomplishments. 

Candi Johnson works as a program coordinator for the STEM center and has been nominated before for this award. 

“It’s an award that is given to women of the university that have a positive contribution to our community, so colleagues across campus can nominate women that they think are deserving of the award,” Johnson said. “A lot of them have done something to support a specific group in the community, for instance, a marginalized group that could use extra support or resources, so it’s honoring the work that they do outside of themselves to contribute to the community.”

Johnson said she was equal parts surprised and honored when she was asked to be the keynote speaker for this year’s Phenomenal Wom*n Awards. In her speech, Johnson said she plans to touch on the historical trend that women are supposed to be quiet and reserved. 

“Women are traditionally encouraged to be modest and polite and quiet, and not really allow ourselves to openly be proud of our accomplishments,” Johnson said. “Sometimes that’s seen as selfish or conceited, so I would really like to celebrate the fact that we are celebrating women. It’s okay to be proud of what we do and to share that with each other, and just to celebrate all of our accomplishments and accolades.”

Johnson said that, coincidentally, she also nominated her coworker, Carol Colaninno. Colaninno is a research associate professor with the STEM center. 

“Carol is one of the hardest workers I know,” Johnson said. “She’s had family matters to deal with over the past year, so [she] balances that and still directs so many of our projects, and [she’s] such a pleasant person to be around too … what would we do without her?”

Colaninno said her nomination was likely due to her research on women in the scientific field. 

“It felt great to be recognized for a lot of the work that I do,” Colaninno said. “My research focuses primarily on women and harassment they experience doing scientific research, so it’s nice to have that recognition that I’m doing something significant that contributes to promoting spaces where women are included.”

Colaninno also said the awards were a great way for other women in the SIU system to hear about and be inspired by the work of these great women. 

“Hearing those stories is always inspiring and lets other people know that we’re not alone in trying to make a workspace that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion,” Colaninno said. 

Colaninno said much of the harassment women experience in academic settings is tied to barriers that prevent women from excelling in their talents. 

“Our student evaluations tend to be lower, because students evaluate us lower than our male counterparts, and those evaluations go into our promotions,” Colaninno said. “Some students have an implicit bias they’re probably completely unaware of … they just don’t perceive that a woman should be teaching those things.”

Emily Milano, president of the disability awareness group New Horizons, said she was asked to read off some of the nominations this year. 

“As I was reading through these nominations … we’re really seeing how much these women mean for campus and how much of a difference they’re making,” Milano said. “And a lot of times, these people aren’t doing these things for recognition … we definitely think that it’s worth recognizing these women for these amazing things they’re doing on campus, because they are really doing amazing things.”

Milano, who also works for the Inclusive Excellence, Education and Development Hub, also said this event serves both to recognize the accomplishments of women in the SIU system, as well as to inspire others to affect positive change in their communities. 

“I’m just astounded by how many awesome people we have on campus and that we’re giving them the opportunity to be recognized for their actions,” Milano said. “It’s inspiring to be able to say, ‘This person did this, this and this,’ so I can do that too.”

Johnson said that, though women have made monumental strides in terms of achieving equality, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in university environments. 

“I guess all I could add is I really appreciate this event, because even though our culture and society has had so much progress with equalizing and recognizing diversity and being inclusive, it is still difficult to be a woman in a university setting,” Johnson said. “[There are] still a lot of statistics against us. Women really do need to be encouraged and uplifted [and] protect our mental health and self-esteem along the way.”

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