Forty-four Years of Virtuous Struggle
In 1974, an Ohio State event explored issues faced by working women, women in business, women in government and marginalized women.
It was a week of workshops, art exhibits, films and speakers focused on the accomplishments of women and challenging sexism. It nodded to the significant advancements women were making toward equality during a decade that would become canonized for liberation efforts inside and outside the home, calls for equal pay and Gloria Steinem. The annual Women’s Week at Ohio State was sponsored by the Women’s Self Government Association (WSGA), an evolution of the women’s student council born in 1908.
The Lantern noted of the 1974 Women’s Week that it would feature “activities pertinent to women and their role in society,” — this according to WSGA chairperson and second-year student Pamela Kubbins. The Equal Rights Amendment, which was up for a vote in the Ohio legislature that year, would be a focal point, as would Black women in the movement and consciousness-raising for men. “The committee favors an effort to downplay formerly ‘hot’ issues of abortion and birth control,” Kubbins had said, “and stress instead the more ‘human’ aspects of the women’s movement.”
"It was amazing to see women of diverse backgrounds and ages, and across so many disciplines unite around one goal, which was, at the core, helping each other."
In 2018, 44 years later and in the same spirit, a new Ohio State event explored issues faced by working women, women in business, women in government and marginalized women. Of course, with anything worthwhile, transforming ideals into practice takes perseverance and time.
On June 6, 2018, Ohio State’s and Ohio University’s alumni associations hosted the inaugural Women’s Leadership Symposium. During eight hours and 20 sessions, thought leaders and accomplished alumni from business, education, research, government and the nonprofit sector shared insightful and actionable ways to help women empower themselves.
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown ’85 JD delivered the keynote address to alumni, advocating that women be unafraid to show “a little more grit,” and that parents “raise girls with not only grit, but a growth mindset.” Other speakers opened dialogues about pay disparity, expanding the number of high-level positions for women in organizations and managing the gendered expectations women face around child care while working. It was a resounding success — one recognized by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for the event’s diversity, size and impact. But more importantly, the atmosphere was that of a reawakening.
Some asked whether collective alumni were ready to talk about women’s issues. But ultimately the global conversation, including #MeToo, #TimesUp and heightened discourse about power dynamics and systemic bias, proved the timing of the symposium would be not only topical, it would have deep heart-and-mind significance for women to whom inequalities were an unfortunate but still routine part of life.
“It was amazing to see women of diverse backgrounds and ages, and across so many disciplines unite around one goal, which was, at the core, helping each other,” said Lauren Luffy, director of lifelong learning at the Ohio State alumni association, who volunteered at the 2018 event. “Clearly this was something that our alumni felt passionate about and we were thrilled at the amount of energy it created. Attendees stayed long after sessions were over to talk to presenters, offer suggestions and assistance to one another, and get to know one another. The emotion in the room was truly palpable.”
Other attendees deemed the event “empowering,” “honest” and “beyond inspiring.” One wrote, “The Women's Leadership Symposium uncovered a new reality for me — that each day we encounter fellow women facing the same unspoken challenges — The Impostor Syndrome, trying to “have it all,” the Gender Tax, putting ourselves last to the detriment of our health — and the list goes on. Women face these challenges and others every day, and we don't often speak up about them! The Women's Leadership Symposium unearthed these realities in each of us and brought them into the light to show that we’re not alone. And through our mutual challenges, we are stronger.”
One event of course didn’t immediately make the world just and fair. Women’s Week hadn’t, either. But amid virtuous struggle, there will always be progress.
While COVID-19 has postponed the second Women’s Leadership Symposium originally set for July 2020, both The Ohio State University and Ohio University alumni associations look forward to gathering our members together again as soon as we can do so safely, Luffy said.