On Feb. 25 the Women’s and Gender Studies Program along with numerous other academic departments, clubs and organizations on campus hosted a first annual, Women’s Education and Empowerment [WE2] conference for local high school girls. The 85 girls came from Kennett, Octorara, and Avon Grove high schools. The conference was Lauren Owsley’s idea; after student-teaching at Kennett Middle School last year, in a Language Arts class.
“I was touched by how many of the female students really responded to the way that I used feminist theory to analyze the novels that we were reading. It paved the way for really great discussions of women’s and gender issues,” Owsley said.
After she graduated, she kept thinking that there had to be something else that she could do for those girls. Thus, she reached out to Dr. Ruchti, a faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, planted the seed for the event.
There was a planning committee associated with the Women’s & Gender Studies Department and affiliated faculty. Professors from all over campus came together to put this conference on. There were professors from Sociology, Geography & Planning, Latin American Studies, Art, Psychology, etc.
The conference had a dual purpose. The first was to introduce traditionally underserved women to the college community and de-mystify the application and financial-aid process. The second purpose was to empower women to see the world as limitless, full of opportunities, and completely validating of their choices.
Some of the workshops the girls attended included “Getting Involved: Student Activities, Groups, and Leadership,” “Surviving and Thriving in Math & Science,” “WCU True Life: Parties, Relationships, and Our Bodies,” and “Talkin’ About a Revolution: Past and Present Perspectives on Equality.”
“I think the conference was a huge success. The girls were buzzing as they left campus. and were already making suggestions for next year. It was incredible to see so many girls bonding over their new-found empowerment,” Owsley said.
Dr. Ruchti said, “I am so proud of everyone involved, especially our student volunteers. It was a great success and we hope to do it again next year! It was wonderful to see the young women having fun and getting excited and informed about college life. It was rewarding to watch our students become inspired by helping the high school students. I was proud to tell the young women that so many people and departments at WCU sponsored this program and really believe in their success.”
Adale Sholock, another main coordinator for the conference said, “WCU faculty, staff, and student volunteers at the conference had an amazing experience interacting with the girls from Octorara, Kennett, and Avon Grove high schools… I am thrilled that our evaluations from the high school students indicate that they felt empowered and inspired, which was our goal. I am so proud that we were able to offer an experience that encouraged them to realize their potential as young women. The conference was a fantastic success.”
The people who coordinated the conference “wanted students to know more about WCU, especially our supportive environment for women students,” Sholock said.
As a result of the conference, 80% of the girls said that that they are going to apply to WCU. One of the attendees wrote on her evaluation: “I learned that there are like a million things to get involved in. I <3 WCU!" Sholock said, “Not many people know about Women’s and Gender Studies as a major or minor at college, so we wanted to educate these students about our program here at WCU.” As a result of the conference, 89% said that they wanted to take a Women’s and Gender Studies course. The evaluation forms asked the girls to name at least one thing they learned. Here are some of their responses: “That as women, we are unlimited and it is important we educate ourselves and continue to give back to our communities.” “Women can accomplish anything and can be very strong,” one young girl said. “I learned that women really hold the power when it comes to ourselves and we are powerful.” “We as women have the power to empower each other as women.” Other girls said, “That women can be underestimated, but if we stick up for ourselves, we can change it,” and “I learned that if you want something – go for it. That you can reach anything if you want.” Attendees at the “WCU True Life: Parties, Relationships, and Our Bodies” said: “I learned a lot of things to prepare myself for a great, safe college experience.” “I was really blind to gender differences. I realize now that I was already a victim, I just ignored it.” Attendees at the “Surviving and Thriving in Math and Science” said: “That there are subliminal messages of male dominance that help decide the career path women take.” One girl said, “I learned many things in the [How to Apply and Pay for College: You Can Do It!] session like I need to do the FAFSA.” Overall, the planning committee and people involved were pleased with the turn out and success of this program and plan to try and do another conference again next year. Rebekah Balmer is a fourth-year student majoring in women’s and gender studies and sociology. She can be reached at RB649636@wcupa.edu.