Letter to the Editor: On International Women’s Day, Women’s Center remains committed to gender inclusion, women’s history

International Women’s Day is celebrated March 8 in schools and communities throughout the world. The observance grew out of the International Women’s Conference in 1910 as a way to assert women’s rights. Women marched in early parades for voting rights and for the end of employment-based sex discrimination. Today, we dedicate the entire month of March to be inspired by the women that came before us, to reflect on the progress that has been made and to advance a multitude of feminist and gender justice issues.

The Women’s Center embodies the spirit of women’s history month through our mission and as we commemorate our 30th anniversary. This landmark year in our history has served as an opportunity for the center to reflect on its work of advocating for a safer and more inclusive campus community and to build greater capacity in order to redress the gender-based issues that continue to persist at Northwestern.

Our 30th anniversary theme, “Critical Intersections,” features programming that examines the critical and transformative impact women have had on Northwestern over the years. On March 1, we honored women across campus who actively advance gender equity in their work as students, staff, faculty and administrators with our Gender Equity in Action Awards. We also honored our long serving associate director, Njoki Kamau, for her 25 years of steadfast commitment to the women of Northwestern. Kamau is a native of Kenya and emigrated to the United States in search of the illusive American dream. Like so many other immigrants, she faces an often hostile social and political landscape yet her experiences have fueled her praxis as an advocate for a safer and more inclusive Northwestern.

The Women’s Center works to acknowledges the critical role women play in social movements and social justice work. It was important to us to amplify the role Northwestern alumna Dr. Kathryn Ogletree played as a brazen student leader of the 1968 Black student takeover of Northwestern’s Bursar’s office and the negotiations that followed. We are honored to have Ogletree as our Women’s History Month speaker on March 15. Ogletree’s and her comrades’ legacies include the development of the Black House as a safe and affirming place on campus for Black students and the founding of the African American Studies program.

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns accelerate the resistance against sexual violence, we found it timely to host a film series in mid-April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We will be screening the documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor, a Civil Rights era film that centers on the gang rape of a young Black woman in 1944 in Alabama and Taylor’s fight for justice with the support of Rosa Parks. The film takes a historical approach to understanding the persistence of sexual violence in society and the long history of women’s resistance and activism to end it. Particularly in this university setting, screening and discussing the film is vital given the chronicity of issues around sexual harassment and assault on university campuses. The film also holds the potential to spark more nuanced conversations around gender-based violence that are often precipitated by intersecting forms of oppression, which have been suppressed in recently popularized and social media driven feminist responses to sexual violence.

While we are living and breathing women’s history month and as we commemorate our 30th anniversary, we at the Women’s Center also recommit ourselves to illuminating the experiences, victories and struggles of women and other gender and sexual minorities on campus and beyond. We also remain committed to offering a feminist perspective to understanding and responding to complex interpersonal, institutional and social issues. Most importantly, at this critical intersection in our university’s history, we stand firmly in our belief that the work of gender equity and inclusion is work everyone at Northwestern should be actively engaged in every month of the year.

Sekile M. Nzinga-Johnson, PhD, MSW
Director of the Women’s Center