100 years later–where do we stand today? What are the issues that matter to the next generation of women leaders and activists? These were some of the questions addressed in last night’s Women In Learning and Leadership (WILL) event that kicked off Women (Making) History Month.
The diverse panel, included Brookdale Community College alumni, current students, and Brookdale faculty, who considered key questions regarding both the history and historiography of the US suffrage movement–focusing on historically marginalized contributors and activists. The panelists also discussed the key concerns and issues that remain to this day, 100 years later.
“The Intersections of the 19th Amendment,” is the title of the installation that will be placed on the wall behind the bronze sculpture donated in November by artist Brian Hanlon. The statue represents a triumphant moment when all those brave women walked to Washington D.C. to enact the 19th Amendment.
English Professor, Roseanne Alvarez teaches the Women in Gender Studies Survey course at Brookdale, coordinates the WILL leadership program, and is an advisor for the WILL student organization, she opened the evening with introductions of the panelists to the nearly 150 in attendance.
She introduced content experts for this project, History Professor Jane Scimeca and Judith Unger. Unger is Assistant Professor at Brookdale’s Bankier Library, she spoke on her work in the library which has helped expand and support scholarship and research on women’s history at the College. She has developed a LibGuide for the Installation project and has worked with Jane Scimeca and her HIST 125 course developing a LibGuide for that class.
Scimeca who teaches Women’s History Survey, started the evening’s talk with a quote from Carrie Chapman Catt, “The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guarantee of your liberty. Women have suffered agony of soul which you can never comprehend, that you and your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it! Understand what it means and what it can do for your country. Use it intelligently, conscientiously, prayerfully. Progress is calling to you to make no pause. Act!”
Included in the Installation are activists Jovita Idar, Zitkala-Sa, Tye Leung Schulze, Mary McLeaod Bethune, Dolores Huerta, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and poet, novelist, and activist Marge Piercy’s poem, “My Heroines”
Former WILL Student Organization President, Yeimi Hernandez researched and talked about the women Jovita Idar and Dolores Huerta who inspired her from the Mexican American community and who also had been involved in immigration at that time. “This subject touched home for me because I was born a century later and my people are still suffering as they were back then,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t learn about this part of history all through my K-12 education.” It was not until now in college while she was researching for this installation that she discovered the history of her heritage.
“American women of color were essential to the suffrage movement even though their efforts have not historically always been recognized,” Hernandez continued. “Their events were helpful and were another piece to the puzzle of where the effort of the 19th Amendment needed to go.” Hernandez also talked about her personal journey and her hope for the future.
Amanda Zelevansky, current President of the WILL Student Organization, is a business major who spoke on the panel about how women are misrepresented in the media today. She said “there is not enough representation in our government and that is really the foundation for misrepresentation for women in society. There are still issues that exist today that existed 100 years ago, that still need to be resolved.”
When women first gained the right to vote it was not all women. Ethnic women were not allowed to vote. Zelevansky presented Tye Leung Schulze in the Installation who she felt was misrepresented in the media for being the first Chinese woman to vote in the USA. She said, “the media emphasized her Chinese ethnicity. They called her a maid and, spelled her name wrong. Implying that she was not important enough or educated enough to vote even though she worked for the government.”
Veronique Manfredini a Brookdale alumnus, currently studying at Columbia University, researched Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Installation. She said, “I found out about her after I joined WILL and participated in a pajama party event they held where we watched a movie about her. I found her to be extremely empowering. Her death was devastating to many people, including myself, and I thought it was important to add her to the Installation because of all the incredible life-changing work she did over her lifespan. There was, unfortunately, not enough space to fit everything in there, but I’m glad I could consolidate a slice of her life to incorporate in the Installation.”
Meagan Friedman just joined WILL this semester and is considered the group’s resident Political Scientist. Participating on the panel, she presented on women in politics. She focused on where we are today and how women currently can become more involved and need to be more represented in politics.
Linda Truong is Vice President of the WILL Student Organization and is an intern for the Campus Election Engagement Project. She explained that CEEP helps engage college students by organizing campus-wide efforts to do things like helping them to register to vote and educate them about their communities. She said, “we are making history right now too, and we are also responsible for setting an example for the future just like the women in this Installation did for us.”
WILL is an academic program and a Club that fosters a deeper understanding of women’s diverse roles and contributions to society as well as gender and its intersections with race, culture, class, sexuality, and other aspects of social identity. Part of their mission is to increase awareness of inequalities and of individual and collective strategies to address these inequalities.
Friedman wants to transfer to Georgetown University and major in International Politics, Counterterrorism. “I believe my similar major and being a part of WILL at Brookdale will help me get into Georgetown,” she said. “A friend of mine at Georgetown is in Georgetown Women in Leadership, a similar club with a community of women that support each other and has programs that include notable speakers that talk on a variety of subjects. It’s a club I really want to be in at Georgetown.”
Hernandez first met the members of WILL at the College fair where she said, “they enthusiastically encouraged me to join. I love Professor Roseanne Alvarez, she makes you leave your comfort zone and grow without you even knowing it. The warmth of the group is amazing. It’s a great team. We are still in touch with past members and collaborating with each other on this event. They all help me to be more present, more confident, and find self-love. They make me think beyond my comfort zone. It’s not a club, it’s more of a family, supportive of all students and accepting of everyone.”
“WILL and the programs we work on are important to me because I am a business major and will be looking to work in the corporate field where I will be competing with men,” Zelevansky said. “I will need to have that foundation to be a leader. WILL is providing me with a support system and the ability to gain leadership skills to serve in the workforce. “
“I became involved in WILL while at Brookdale because I was looking to make a difference and to learn more about what being a feminist is like,” Manfredini said. “It was beneficial to me in so many ways, some of which are that I learned so much more than what I expected to, I made some lifelong friends, and I grew as an empowered woman.”
This program was supported by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities through the “NJ Women Vote: The 19th Amendment at 100” initiative and is co-sponsored by the WILL: Women in Learning and Leadership Academic Program and the WILL Student Organization. The WILL @Brookdale program is modeled after the goals established by the National Network of Collegiate Women’s Leadership Programs (NNCWLP). #choosetochallenge #IWD2021