Posted: April 20, 2007
by Stephanie Miedema '07
While national studies cite low levels of women's participation in public media, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Smith, and Barnard are embarking on a mission to change the status quo and strengthen the role of women's voices in public forums.
On April 13, more than 40 students from Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, Barnard, and Bryn Mawr met for the second annual Women's Public Voices Symposium held at Barnard College. The symposium's keynote speaker was Newsweek director of special projects Alexis Gelber, Barnard '74. Former Newsdaycolumnist Sheryl McCarthy '69 was a guest speaker. McCarthy, a former MHC trustee, has been key to efforts to open opportunities in journalism to Mount Holyoke students and alumnae.
Gelber, who directed the "AIDS at 25" special Newsweekissue and managed the Women in Leadership special report in 2005, spoke to the students on ways to express personal concerns (from environmental activism to national and international politics) through a variety of public forums. McCarthy, a provocative reporter, shared her story-finding, interview, and writing techniques through an indepth dissection of a selected few of her columns. "It was very interesting to hear from both a writer and an editor to get two different perspectives," said participant Alexandra Allukian, Wellesley '07. After the speakers' presentations, students were encouraged to brainstorm and share ideas on how to transform their personal causes into effective public dialogue.
The brainchild of Mount Holyoke senior lecturer of gender studies Martha Ackmann, the Women's Public Voices project is designed to develop women's potential for dialogue in public debate. The project is primarily Web-based with an online site dedicated to the public works of students from the five colleges. A bevy of submissions are presented in a variety of formats including blogs, policy papers, and video essays, which are all conceived, created, and produced by students. Topics range from the socioeconomic effects of obesity to one student's experience with religious rituals. Self-reflective, often witty and well articulated, these personal snapshots are proof of the rapid development of women's voices at all-women's institutions.
The Women's Public Voices project was funded by an 18-month grant from the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) and the Mellon Foundation. "The goal is to pull the five colleges together to have conversations about the importance of women speaking out in a variety of forums and raise the next generation of women who can speak confidently on issues," Ackmann said.
Participant Sarah Nagar, Barnard '09, noted, "Being part of a women's college means taking our message out into the real world so we can do what we want to do."