The College of Humanities and Sciences’ Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity Commission hosted a forum for female journalism students to interview fellow female students, faculty and staff about the experience of being a woman in the professional realm.
Topics of Wednesday’s discussion included the success of the LGBTQ community, sexual violence survivors and women of color.
Ravi Perry, one of the co-chairs of IDEC, said he wanted to end the semester emphasizing female connections, following the Men of Color Symposium held in February.
“We wanted to conclude the year by focusing on women — particularly because we know that’s an under-discussed topic, not only at VCU but everywhere.”
Montserrat Fuentes, dean in the college of Humanities and Sciences, spoke at the event. She said the university needs to offer more encouragement, support, advocacy and mentoring to women.
“It is only when we hear about experiences that we can start working together,” she said. “This is the conversation that we need to be having and I hope this can be the start of an open dialogue.”
According to Fuentes, women were only 44 percent of tenured and tenure eligible faculty at VCU in 2016, up from 42 percent in 2011. However, she said the tenure track female teachers still aren’t representative of the 60 percent female student body.
Gail Hackett, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said she blames the toxic academic environments that women are raised in.
“Academia is still quite sexist, there are still elements of racism (and) homophobia,” Hackett said. “Unfortunately, those things are still happening. More and more people know it’s stupid to say those things so they don’t say them as much, but they’re still thinking them.”
Florence Johnson, programs and events coordinator for the Division for Inclusive Excellence, said in her interview that a possible remedy is for women to let their determination drive them.
“It almost seems like there are parts of society that have taken a step backwards in defining what it means to be a woman,” she said. “You have to understand the importance of being more than how you appear, that there’s a whole world out there that needs all the help and talent it can get, and just to press forward with your education.”
Joann Richardson, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health sciences, said women need to make a concerted effort to connect with one another in order to foster success.
“Those who have accomplished already need to reach back and help those who are trying to reach their goals,” Richardson said. “I think the sisterhood is very important on a college campus. The bond that we’re able to create I think takes (students) a long way.”
Student interviewers Brianna Scott and Hannah Eason said they appreciated the networking and educational aspects of the discussion.
“Doing things to get yourself exposure is really important as a black woman, especially in spaces that are predominantly male or predominantly white,” Scott said.
Perry said he hopes the inaugural event can happen annually.
“(I) have the responsibility — the awesome responsibility — to insure that everyone in the college is exposed to as many resources about diversity and inclusion as possible,” Perry said. “We must begin by giving voice to those marginalized groups that have not had it before.”
Nia Tariq, Staff Writer