Milestones during Women’s History Month

The Women’s Center and women’s and gender studies program celebrate anniversaries. Students share their expertise and experiences at an anniversary celebration panel in Torch Lounge. Photos by Shravanth Reddy.

Tori Miller News Editor

All different corners of UD are greatly impacted by women. During Women’s History Month every March, the Women’s Center coordinates events as experiential learning opportunities for UD students, staff and faculty members.

The Women’s Center— located in Alumni Hall— is open to everyone and is dedicated to serving all students, faculty and staff by promoting the equality of all gender identities, utilizing and modeling intersectional and anti-oppression frameworks and advocating for an equitable university culture.

Leah Ward, the interim director of the Women’s Center, and Jamie Small, associate professor of sociology and director of the women’s and gender studies (WGS) program, worked hard all month planning events and ensuring the month was memorable for all women. One of their most memorable moments was the anniversary celebration held in Torch Lounge on March 23, commemorating 20 years for the Women’s Center and 45 years of UD’s WGS program.

When asked why it’s important to celebrate Women’s History Month, both Ward and Small shared their thoughts, insights and major takeaways from the month.

“As a woman, particularly a Black woman, we’ve always been at the forefront of movements standing with people in efforts to make their lives more equitable,” Ward said. “It’s important to celebrate the hard work and diligence of the women that have helped create space for other people’s experiences to be heard, honored and reflected upon.”

Every year, the Women’s Center coordinates the annual Women of UD exhibit highlighting the contributions women have made at the University of Dayton. Ward helped facilitate the 2023 exhibit themed “Catalysts of our Community,” recognizing faculty, staff and students who stood in front and those who worked behind the scenes to enrich UD’s community in a variety of ways. 

“It’s really impactful to see the honorees being notified when they’re honored in public or on campus and how they get to experience gratitude,” Ward said.

Small said that the WGS program does feminist scholarship and advocacy 365 days a year, but that the month of March offers the campus a really important moment to pause and reflect. 

“We can cast a wider net and create greater visibility among stakeholders who maybe don’t have as much awareness of all the incredible ways that women have promoted equity justice over history,” Small said. “It gives that space to recognize where we’ve come,but to also think intentionally about where we want to go and how the UD Catholic and Marianst approach offer a unique space in which to do that work.”

Small said that all corners of the university have some kind of connection to WGS and that it works closely with other interdisciplinary programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, such as international studies and human rights studies; WGS can also reach other fields of study like the natural sciences. As a goal, she wants to increase the number of WGS majors and minors and overall enrollment in the WGS 250 course.

“WGS tends to be a field of study that students discover once they get to campus,” Small said. “Our goal is to grow that visibility because we really do see our mission as committed to creating really robust, rigorous, intellectual spaces for our majors and minors.”

For the future of the Women’s Center, Ward wants to continue to establish relevance on campus while making sure all needs of the campus community are met.

“We try our best to get a good comprehensive view of what’s happening and the fullness of what is offered across units, academic and department,” Ward said. “My hope for the future is that we just continue to expand the list over time with what is being offered and publicized.”

Ward’s vision ensures that restrictive walls are not being created and that the focus is more on supporting the fullness of people on campus. She plans to carve out more capacity to support LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff needs with a potential name change for the center to be more inclusive toward the trans and non-binary communities. 

The Women’s Center and WGS program both highly value student input. Junior Eden Michelson, a double major in English and women’s and gender studies, said that through her experiences she’s connected with new people and was invited to many events she didn’t know existed before finding WGS. 

“Since I have become a women’s and gender studies major, I feel like door after door has been opened to me,” Michelson said. “Everyone on campus should engage with WGS and the Women’s Center in some way because the oppressive systems that these programs work to dismantle are relevant to the daily lives of each and every one of us.”

The Women’s Center encourages UD’s on-campus community to use their facilities and to join student organizations such as Students Advocating for Gender Equity or Womanist Empower. There are also internship, research assistant and student work opportunities available.

WGS is offering a range of cross-disciplinary courses for the upcoming fall semester, hoping that all interested students join the class rosters. WGS also hosts a book club that is open to everyone, does PATH-eligible learning events and has welcomed women guest speakers to talk to students at lunch and learns.  

“We’ve come a long way, which that historical lens helps us to see, but there’s still quite a few really important global problems to tackle that also connect to our worlds locally here in Dayton,” Small said.

For more information about the Women’s Center or WGS program, check out their websites and follow @udwomenscenter on Instagram.

Ward (far left) and Small (far right) smile for a picture with students. Michelson pictured next to Small. Photo by Reddy.

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