How Colleges and Universities Can Celebrate Women’s History Month
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Women's History Month is a time to commemorate and acknowledge women's vital role in shaping American history. While women have made significant advancements economically and politically since the country's founding, gender discrimination and sexism still create social and economic barriers.
For example, while women outnumber men in college attendance and graduation:
- Women in sports are still undervalued
- Women continue to experience sexual harassment on campus
- They remain underrepresented in male dominated fields like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Colleges still have work to do in advancing gender equity and creating safe spaces for women on campus.
Why Is Women's History Month Important?
Women's History Month is an opportunity to celebrate women's accomplishments and examine the barriers that still stand in the way of gender equity in the U.S.
The Gender Wage Gap
According to 2020 Census data, women earned an average of 82 cents for every dollar men earned.
The wage gap is even wider for women of color. It leads to decreased earnings for women over time, creating challenges in starting a family, buying a home, achieving economic parity with men, and building generational wealth. Women's History Month is both a time for advocacy and also a time to rectify these systemic inequalities.
Dr. Erica Jayne Friedman, interim director of the women's center and associate director of the pride center at Florida International University, said we don't often learn or celebrate history through a feminist lens — and it's crucial to start doing so now. This Women's History Month, start celebrating Herstory.
"Women's Herstory brings forward the contributions of women, Black women, trans women, lesbian women, and others — especially those who may not have been as 'palatable' or likeable for the masses, but who made good trouble and whom we have to thank for so much that we collectively have today as a society," Dr. Friedman said. "At the same time, this celebration brings attention to the incredible challenges that women have faced and still face. These herstories teach us how we may effectively approach the fight for more inclusion, equity, and justice in the future."
8 Ways Colleges and Universities Can Honor Women's History Month
Dr. Friedman says events must be inclusive and take an intersectional feminist approach to be successful.
"The Office of Social Justice and Inclusion Women's Center at FIU celebrates women's herstory all year round through various workshops, programs, and services," they said. "Specifically in preparation for the month of March, the women's center calls on the entire university to submit their program proposals."
Here are several ways colleges and universities can honor Women's History Month in 2023.
1. Host a Salary Negotiation Workshop
For many college graduates, negotiating a salary can be frightening. Research shows that women often lack confidence around negotiating their salary and are less likely to negotiate than men. Women also encounter biases and stereotypes around their abilities and readiness for the job, which impacts how much they are able to negotiate.
Colleges play an important role in building students' self-confidence and teaching them essential life skills that can aid in their postgraduate success. The American Association of University Women offers a salary negotiation workshop where students can learn about the gender pay gap, gain strategies for communicating their value and qualifications to an employer, and create a salary negotiation pitch. Colleges should consider hosting a salary negotiation workshop to demonstrate their commitment to advancing social and economic equity for women on campus.
2. Host a Lecture on Intersectionality
In the last few years, many colleges have issued statements detailing their commitment to anti-racism due to the continued murders and mistreatment of people of color. Intersectionality acknowledges that multiple social identities like race, class, and sexuality inform one's experiences. It is important that we acknowledge these different compounding identities and how they create systemic barriers. Incorporating intersectionality into your Women's History Month celebration is a great way to advance equity on campus.
Kennesaw State University hosted an intersectionality conference for faculty and staff and had sessions on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ students.
3. Host a Leadership Retreat
Women like Vice President Kamala Harris and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams are rising to high political ranks. However, there is still a societal perception that men possess better leadership skills than women. Hosting a leadership retreat for women in college can help them build confidence, learn essential life skills, and grow their social network.
The University of San Diego hosts an annual empowerment leadership retreat focused on women connecting through their own stories.
For the past 15 years, FIU has hosted a Women Who Lead conference designed to enhance students' personal, professional, and academic leadership skills.
"We achieve this by engaging students with experiences central to diverse women and gender-expansive people of all types, including faculty, staff, alumni, and professionals of all industries," Dr. Friedman said.
4. Host a Film Screening
Films can be excellent educational resources and opportunities for students to learn about women's history. Check out this list of the top feminist movies to show during Women's History Month.
Knox College hosted a screening of the movie "Hidden Figures." This movie chronicles the experiences of three Black women mathematicians working for NASA during the space race.
5. Use Social Media
During the month of March, colleges can host social media campaigns where they highlight local women-owned businesses in their communities.
Women-owned businesses are on the rise, but women entrepreneurs still face challenges in starting and sustaining a business. In terms of funding, the Urban Institute found that in 2008, only 4% of small business loans went to women-owned businesses.
Black women entrepreneurs are one of the fastest-growing groups of business owners. However, women of color face additional barriers in securing venture capital for their businesses.
Check out this women-owned business directory and consider supporting a few of them this March.
6. Partner With an Organization
Colleges play a pivotal role in enriching their communities. Institutions often build partnerships with local organizations to advance students' success and enhance students' experience. Some colleges have experienced significant enrollment declines and budget cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Partnering with local community organizations can help institutions expand resource capacity.
Organizations focused on STEM, like Girls Who Code or the Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN), can help women in STEM careers find mentorship and job opportunities. They also help connect college students with younger girls who are interested in STEM. Additionally, colleges can encourage students to conduct service learning projects at local organizations like a YWCA or women's advocacy center.
7. Host Themed Events Throughout the Month
Women's History Month is a great time to tackle social issues relevant to women such as sexual harassment, body positivity, and domestic violence. Consider hosting different events throughout the month, focusing on different social issues.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and Vagina Monologues are popular events that focus on sexual violence that can be scheduled on campus. Pennsylvania State University's "love your body" week for students, staff, and faculty centered body positivity and awareness.
Colleges can also host an event recognizing women staff and faculty on campus. Schools may encourage students to write letters of appreciation to the professors and employees they admire. Colleges can conduct social media campaigns to highlight the work that women faculty and staff are doing on campus.
8. Start a Clothing Drive for a Local Shelter
Starting a clothing or food drive during this month is a great way for colleges to give back to their local community. Local domestic violence shelters and YWCAs are great organizations to donate to.
Student groups can organize a clothing or food drive and even turn it into a competition to increase participation.
Frequently Asked Questions About Women's History Month
What is the Women's History Month theme?
The theme for Women's History Month in 2023 is "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." This is a time to pay tribute to women storytellers throughout history, such as journalists, actors, directors, and writers.
Why is March Women's History Month?
Women's History Month was born of Women's History Week, which was created during the 1970s. The National Women's History Institute petitioned Congress to recognize the celebration, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared March 2-8 the first national Women’s History Week. In 1987, the celebratory week was formally expanded to become Women's History Month.
How is Women's History Month celebrated at home?
There are several activities you can do at home, such as watching a women's history documentary or film, listening to a woman-owned podcast, visiting a local women-owned business, or reading a book by a Black woman author.
With Advice From:
Dr. Erica Jayne Friedman
Dr. Erica Jayne Friedman is the Associate Director for the Pride Center and the Interim Director for the Women's Center in the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion at FIU. They received their BA in Psychology from Binghamton University and earned their PhD in Social and Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Dr. Friedman has over 10 years of higher education experience in teaching, research, program development, and student and faculty support. In their research, Dr. Friedman examined topics within gender and queer studies to understand the impact of cisgenderism and heterosexism. They apply this research to the talks and workshops at and beyond FIU. Dr. Friedman is committed to creating spaces for people to courageously self-determine their own genders and to teaching others how to do the same by critically analyzing and unlearning socialized, gender-based assumptions.