International Women’s Day speaks to new audiences

Reflecting expanded interest and reach—as well as a slew of new events—the University’s celebratory week preceding International Women’s Day will culminate with an address by acclaimed physicist Young-Kee Kim.

By Evangeline Reid

This week, the University celebrates International Women’s Day—March 8—for the second year in a row. However, with renewed visibility and interest, the event has grown into a forward-reaching initiative that aims to create dialogue on women in a mindful way, and in a manner which promises only more growth to come.

“Really for a week leading up to International Women’s Day, talk very concentrated-ly and intensely and intentionally about women,” director of international affairs Tamara Felden said. “There is real enthusiasm for it because we’re in an environment where I can’t imagine anybody here saying, ‘Oh, why would we pay attention to women?’”

This environment is, in part, historical. The University welcomed women among its very first class in 1892, at a time when that was not necessarily the norm. Moreover, National Women’s Day, as an on-campus event, dates back, with records showing a celebration in 1978, a year after the United Nations declared it an official observation date, and also in a few of the years following. In the interim prior to 2013, however, it had fallen by the wayside.

It’s thanks to the Office of International Affairs that the event is back. Organizers were searching for a platform that would cross boundaries between both nationality and culture, while also exploring differences of experience. The 2013 festivities were fairly small: a screening, a workshop on gender equality, a video featuring the women of the University, and an online photo exhibit, with very little advertising.

However, the enthusiasm at those events prompted the Office to expand in an effort to organize resources and gather expertise. “My office started as the coordinator, but this is something that cuts across every program, every office, every population in the University…so we started reaching out,” Feldon said.

One such collaboration was with the University of Chicago division of the Body Project, which hosted a workshop on Tuesday in collaboration with the Women’s Day celebrations. The student-led discussion asked poignant questions, addressing topics such as the nature of the ideal woman and how people could ultimately challenge this perpetuated concept of perfection.

Through other collaborations with groups and departments on campus, this year’s festivities include Reg exhibits about the academic life of women, a day of service supporting women in Chicago, poster decoration for a parade on the main quads, a resource fair, and even a screening of the film It Was Rape. The week will conclude this Saturday with a keynote address from Young-Kee Kim, the Louis Block professor of physics at the University.

“We wanted to touch into many different areas that have to do with women’s lives. We wanted to seriously think about things—create an opportunity to seriously think about things— also have the joyful part of celebration, but always with the expectation as we are having this dialogue: How can we move forward? How do we say we actually have found a couple of areas in which there are things we can yet do, that are feasible, for which there are resources, where people are interested to support whatever it might be?” Felden said. Yet, she maintains the perspective that the event is still growing, and she is already speaking of plans for next year.

Most students on campus had heard about the event through e-mails and posters, but many noted the ninth-week workload as an impediment to involvement. “I was going to go to the Body Project thing yesterday, but then I had a lot of work to do…but it’s very cool,” second-year Amanda Wiesler said.

Second year Sebastien Akarmann had a different perspective. “Being a man, I just wondered when international men’s week was,” he joked.

However, there’s undoubtedly been positive feedback and participation from many different parts of the University in a quest to explore, celebrate, and ultimately support women through the discussion of many different parts of their lives—both serious and fun. With this positivity behind her, Felden says she hopes to expand the celebration again next year, with even more collaborative events. Describing the complicated process of making the event happen, Felden added with a laugh, “We’re having a ball.”