The fight for women’s equality is one of the most persistent problems in the modern world. Women are treated differently than men in all areas of society, and women feel the effect of this discrimination in their day-to-day lives. At Boston College this problem is all too apparent. The undergraduate student body is 53% female, yet men continue to dominate the campus. According to survey statistics reported by incoming and outgoing students, women graduate Boston College feeling less confident than when they arrived as freshmen. There is something fundamentally wrong about an environment that diminishes the self-confidence of more than half the population.
The annual Boston College Women’s Summit—formerly known as Own It—spreads awareness about these issues and works to empower the women of the BC community. The Summit, which took place last weekend, works with women and girls to overcome the limits that society has placed on them because of their gender. It encourages BC students to stand up for what is right and speak out against unjust treatment. The event consists of a series of speakers and workshops that teach women valuable lessons about succeeding in the world. One of the most important lessons is that women do not need to act like men in order to succeed; instead, they need to embrace their womanhood as an asset.
The Women’s Summit has an elastic quality that allows it to grow to reflect the changing times, and over the past few years the event has evolved in many ways. The team made several notable changes this year to work towards their goals, including rewriting the entire mission statement.
This year’s Women’s Summit was created with the goal of becoming a more welcoming, inclusive, intersectional, and empowering Summit. The Director of Speakers for the 2017 Summit, Rachel Simon, says that the team works hard to make the event “as inclusive and inspirational as possible.” According to Simon, the racist rhetoric that has been being espoused on campus over the past few weeks encouraged the organizers of the Summit to make it “a place of solidarity and community.”
The Co-Director of Outreach for the 2017 Summit, Tess Murphy, MCAS '19, emphasizes that the Women’s Summit is intended to be “a place where everyone feels like their voices, stories, and experiences, are valued and will be heard.” Particularly in light of recent events on campus, the organizers of the Summit wanted to make sure that the event was a safe, inclusive, and welcoming space for attendees and speakers to create a meaningful dialogue about gender, race, sexuality, and equality. Murphy points out that the event underscores the need to not only create dialogue, but to also enact change at BC and in the larger community.
Speakers for the event were chosen with diversity and authenticity in mind. Says Murphy, “Our main focus when choosing speakers and seminar leaders was to have a variety of speakers so that all attendees could see themselves reflected in the event.”
Attendees of the event were able to choose two of ten seminars, and the hope was that each person could relate to the career or topic of the speaker they had chosen. Simon explains that all of this year’s speakers were specifically encouraged “to address the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, ability, and socioeconomic class in their presentations.”
According to the Director of Marketing for the 2017 Women’s Summit, Marian Concepcion, many positive changes have been made to event, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Ultimately, Concepcion hopes that every student on campus will feel represented at the event, and that students from every club at BC will attend.
Concepcion wants the speakers “to represent all issues that are occurring on campus and to create a space for the BC community to engage in conversations about these important issues and feel that their voices are being heard.” Murphy expresses a similar sentiment, and hopes that in the future, organizers will continue working to fully engage with the entire student body to make everyone feel welcomed and empowered to attend the event.
The Women’s Summit serves an important role for women at Boston College: It creates a space where all individuals feel like their voices matter and their stories are heard. This allows for productive dialogue about women’s issues both at BC and beyond.
The dialogue that is created at The Summit is not intended to stop there. Rather, the conversation is meant to continue on campus in order to create a community where women’s issues are properly focused on and freely discussed.
“I think it is really important to make more people comfortable about discussing women’s issues, which can help to break down gender norms and stereotypes,” explains Murphy. “We strive to empower all women on campus to recognize their goals and potential and to enact change. Every woman can make a difference and the Women’s Summit is really a day to focus on who you are and how you can make this difference.”
Gender inequity is a very real problem that permeates every level of society. People often feel that in order to effect any real change they need to take action on a macro level, by running or office, giving speeches, and organizing protests. While these actions are impactful and necessary, an even deeper kind of change can come from simply making individual choices to initiate and engage in vulnerable conversations about the way being a woman impacts our lives.
Simon explains that the Women’s Summit strives to facilitate this kind of conversation. She adds that when people take the brave step to “open up to friends about difficult topics like insecurity, failure, confidence, anxiety, depression, trauma, and fear, we can help breakdown some of the societal barriers constructed by gender norms.”
As a final thought, Simon encourages women to “tell your friends about a time you’ve been afraid to walk home alone, about a time you’ve been ignored in a meeting, about a time you’ve held back from speaking up.” These shared experiences create a strong community that encourages education and conversation about gender inequality. The important thing to remember is that women’s rights are human rights. When women are strong, society is stronger because of it.