Photo Courtesy Louise Nessralla / Boston College '19

Ascending with Boston College Women's Summit

There’s never been a better time to be a woman than right now. Although there is still much to accomplish in terms of achieving equality, women are occupying more positions of power than ever before and definitions of womanhood are expanding to be more inclusive and intersectional. Women are rightfully making their voices heard and taking up space in societal spheres that used to be exclusively reserved for men.

With new opportunity, however, comes new obstacles, expectations, and forms of oppression for women to navigate. The 2019 Boston College Women’s Summit provided young women attendees a roadmap for discovering self-empowerment and happiness in a demanding and overwhelming age.

The summit was kicked off by keynote speaker Sarah Kay, a well-known spoken word poet and feminist who garnered national recognition for her 2011 TED Talk, “If I Should Have a Daughter,” which beautifully illustrates the female experience and tackles issues of female empowerment.

Kay’s speech was powerful yet effortlessly charming, and focused primarily around a topic crucial to managing college life: balance. The poet began by discussing her past experience as a student at Brown, specifically her constant “fear of missing out” and the sinking feeling that no matter what she was doing, it wasn’t the right thing. If she was in the library getting work done, she felt like she should be out mingling with friends, and vice versa; it’s a predicament most BC students can relate to.

Her advice? Focus on the and, not the or. Don’t limit yourself to choosing one single identity or path to success. Kay also advised that you “date yourself” during your four years in college. She said this not to discourage young women from exploring relationships–she herself fell in love for the first time as an undergrad—but rather to dig deep, find out what you really like and don’t like, and faithfully practice self-care.

Kay acknowledged that women are too often defined by their relationships, especially their relationships with men (as wives, girlfriends, daughters, etc.), and urged them to reject this pattern: “Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside someone else.”

Bringing her presentation to a close, Kay performed her poem, “The Type,” in which she poignantly encouraged women to define themselves not through the male gaze, but on their own conditions. “Do not mistake yourself for a guardian or a muse or a promise or a victim or a snack. You are a woman—skin and bones, veins and nerves, hair and sweat.”

Following the keynote address, attendees broke up into individual workshops, each focusing on various women’s issues ranging from growing up ethnic in America to the anti-trafficking movement to the feminist caliber of Wonder Woman.

Everyone then regathered in Robsham for the mainstage conversation “Is there such a thing as work-life balance...or is it just life?” in which a group of influential women at BC (Tiziana Dearing, Jocelyn Gates, Helen Ha, Régine Jean-Charles, and Katie Dalton) spoke candidly about the rewarding and not-so-fun aspects of being highly accomplished working mothers. The discussion centered around the importance of relying on other women, strategies of coping with societal pressures, and the previously touched-upon theme of finding balance and self-fulfillment. Jean-Charles emphasized that there’s no shame in saying “no” when you feel over-committed in order to find joy someplace else, as well as asking for help when it’s needed.

The event was brought to a close with three awe-inspiring performances from SLAM!, BC’s slam poetry group.

The official mission of the Women’s Summit is “to empower women of all backgrounds to realize their individual and collective potential to rise together and enact change.” The event certainly met that objective, supplying attendees with thought-provoking perspectives and helpful tools to exist and persist as motivated women in male-dominated spaces. In their own words, it “provided women with a space to gather, listen to each other, and just be.”

Sarah Kay’s closing remarks epitomized everything that the Women’s Summit stands for: “I want to tell you that you might not figure out where you’re going by the end of four years. Listen as much as you speak. Disturb the comfortable, challenge what needs to be challenged, provide for those who have been victimized by natural disasters or unnatural oppression. Define who you are for yourself and create the world that you want to live in that is more just for the women who come after you and more possible, and, and, and.”

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