IDEC Dialogue Series chat

Discussion of Issues Facing Women in Higher Ed

The Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (IDEC) in the College of Humanities and Sciences kicked off their IDEC Dialogue Series in April with Women Defining Success for Women in Higher Education, an interactive event which focused on fostering a dialogue about the issues, challenges, and opportunities women face in the College today.

“There are really serious issues under the surface that we need to get to the root of and tackle. Growth doesn’t really happen unless we’re willing to be honest with each other and be open to critique,” said Frankie Mastrangelo, a Ph.D. student in the Media, Art, and Text (MATX) Program who spoke at the event.

Prominent female members of VCU faculty, staff, and student body from across the College were interviewed by female broadcast journalism majors from the Robertson School for Media and Culture about their experiences in higher education for this dialogue series, which invited audience members to ask questions of all the participants after the interviews. Their discussion focused on the challenges women face in higher education and addressed the prevalence of sexual harassment in all levels of academia.

“My first job, I was in a room with mostly male faculty when sexual harassment policies first went into effect and the discussion around the table was how the male faculty were going to prevent women from making false accusations, and it was male faculty of which half of the faculty were blatant sexual harassers,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., VCU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “As we know from the #MeToo movement, it hasn’t changed as much as we would hope it would. It hasn’t changed, it’s just gone underground.”

Speakers also discussed the expectations and limitations placed on women in professional environments, and the importance of practicing mental health self-care by prioritizing your needs over the wishes of others.

“It’s okay to say no to certain responsibilities. One of my mentors told me that if you’re given a box of responsibility that’s not yours, and they try to hand it to you, it’s up to you to say yes or no to that. You do not have to pick up the box,” said Sloane Smith, a sociology graduate student at VCU. “I think as women especially we feel the need to pick up those boxes, pick up the slack, they expect us to do that, but we have the right to say no and be in control of our own destinies.”

The dialogue series addressed the intersectional influences which impact the ability of women to advance in higher education, including race, class, and immigration status.

“Something that I’ve felt uncomfortable talking about is that I’m actually undocumented. So the entire system is not built for me and it is still shaping itself one way or another. If people find out that you’re undocumented from a very young age they automatically don’t think that you’re going to be able to go to college. I’m actually going to be able to go to grad school,” said Jessica Caycho, a senior undergraduate theatre student at VCU.

Many speakers credited the women who came before them for their success and emphasized the importance of acknowledging the women in your life who do thankless labor every day. They also spoke of their mentors, both male and female, who gave them an opportunity to advance in their field when no one else would.

“We need to bond together,” said Joanne Richardson, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences. “Those who have accomplished already need to reach back and help those who are trying to accomplish to reach those goals. I think the sisterhood is very important on a college campus and I’ve tried to do that with all students, and particularly with female students.”

By Megan Schiffres
May 3, 2018