Updated: Feb 27, 2021
This upcoming International Women’s Day, the Salisbury University Women’s Forum will hold its annual conference March 5 at 4 p.m.
The SUWF is an organization currently working to promote gender equity throughout the campus community and is led by Dr. Elsie Walker.
“We established our chapter a few years ago because we felt it was important to have a group focused on gender equity that was specific to Salisbury University. And, from my point of view, the goal is about making the whole campus culture a place of greater awareness, support for and initiatives geared towards creating greater gender equity. It’s also — on a more fundamental level, creating a new sense of sisterhood that’s a bit more visible and right now [during the COVID-19 pandemic] that feels especially important,” Walker said.
Overtime, Walker has noticed the organization’s increasing willingness to engage in deeper discussions — something Walker feels is vital to create change within the campus community.
“Each one of the conferences … the inaugural conference was in 2017 and it was called 'Hearing Women’ s Voices,' so it was very directly addressing the idea that women need to be heard and they’re quite often silenced. The second conference was in 2018 and the theme … was confronting conflict creating change. By that point we were becoming a little more ambitious about having the difficult conversations and at the same time, discussing ways of moving forward. With the third conference of 2019, I think we had gathered enough steam and campus-wide support that we were even more blunt about the idea of seeking justice and making claims about what has happened, but also what still needs to happen for there to be true gender equity. And then, with last year’s conference we were reflecting a lot because we realized it had been 100 years since the first American women got the right to vote. We were also very aware that many women of color, and many minorities, did not have easy access to the vote for a long time. So, there’s been a kind of running theme of looking at how far we’ve come, but also looking at how much further we have to go…”
Although previous SUWF conferences were held in-person, Walker was determined to continue the organization’s annual conference during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, Walker has made this year’s 2021 SUWF conference completely virtual.
“We felt it was important to do something even if it couldn’t be in the same format. We also felt it was important to deformalize the proceedings a little bit because expecting people to sit down and absorb formal presentations on top of everything else they’re juggling right now [the pandemic] felt counterinitiative.”
The Zoom event will feature multiple videos, from SU students, faculty and staff highlighting significant thoughts and ideas on the importance of gender equity, according to an email released by Walker herself.
Walker hopes the inclusion of short videos from various individuals, regardless of their involvement with the organization, will broaden conversation, allowing for numerous voices to be heard.
“The goal was to also include as many voices as possible and to make sure that it would feel like a genuinely open invitation to everybody…”
Walker feels the continuation of SUWF’s conference importance is particularly important this year as the pandemic has been particularly difficult for women and minority groups.
“Well, on an immediate level of the campus culture, I think it’s important people understand the pandemic has been disproportionally damaging to the lives of women and, indeed, all historically marginalized groups. And this is because the hardships that have come with the pandemic have amplified or extended the inequities that already existed. On a more practical level and thinking more specifically about those who identify as female, it is a widely understood fact that many women are shouldering the majority of home responsibilities on top of working full time. This is a juggling act that is not only difficult, but sometimes extremely challenging to sustain, and I think it’s important that there be a widespread understanding and acknowledgement of this…”
Additionally, Walker recognizes the historical significance of the COVID-19 pandemic regarding gender equity.
“ this is more than a passing pandemic reality, but one that is simply more amplified and visible now … I’m optimistic we can learn from this terribly challenging time. My fear is that people might forget, and I think it’s very important that we don’t just expect to go back to business as usual. Thousands upon thousands of people have lost their jobs — a majority of those people are women.”
Walker feels the pandemic can be viewed as an opportunity for societal growth.
“But what I also hope is this entire situation — the visibility of inequity that is so manifest right now — is something people will hold on to and consider how to change in a much more concerted way.”
She also hopes the event will be an empowering opportunity for people to find solace in one another.
“With regard to our event … our goal primarily is to be an uplifting presence for those who identify as female on campus because we’re seeing a lot of people near breaking point, and this is a moment to offer inspiration, hope, uplifting stories and testimonies to the strength of women on campus which we hope will inspire people who want to see their colleagues speaking out, but also students who can benefit from hearing faculty and staff speak in a new way, in a way that might be a little more candid, or personal, emotional or direct…”
Despite the progress made over the years, Walker expresses how relevant and present gender equity issues are in today’s world, especially for young women in college.
Walker believes addressing these societal issues and expectations is necessary for creating change and shares her advice for future generations:
“…I think we are often socially or culturally indoctrinated to believe that so-called 'feminine' qualities of humility, sensitivity and emotionality are signs of weakness, and that, in order to achieve a lot in the world, you have to somehow slough off these properties — to steal yourself for being competitive in the world at large. But, the older I get and the further I go professionally, the more strongly I feel that these qualities are imperative for not only achieving a lot in what you do, but believing in what you’re doing from the fullest humanitarian perspective. I think that young women moving forward have a lot to contend with because the employment opportunities are more scarce then they have been, and the anxiety upon finishing a degree is very real and I think a lot of women feel that they are inherently — sometimes vulnerable. But for me, being in touch with your, 'feminine...' qualities of sensitivity and self-consciousness, your compassion can lead to extraordinary possibilities because these are the very parts of you that help you connect with other human beings and realize your place in the world, and also the work that matters to you and that you want to give your heart to as well. So, I suppose I’m arguing that certain 'feminine' properties are what we need and what the world needs right now to become better.”
The SUWF website can be located below: Salisbury University Women's Forum | Salisbury University
By OLIVIA BALLMANN
Featured image by Michael Cotterino