The 19th Amendment flag and American flag fly over the Marvin K. Peterson Library, West Haven, March 2, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Charger Bulletin/Mia Adduci. )
The 19th Amendment flag and American flag fly over the Marvin K. Peterson Library, West Haven, March 2, 2023.

Photo courtesy of Charger Bulletin/Mia Adduci.

University kicks off Women’s History Month with lineup of women leaders at annual flag raising

March 2, 2023

As the 19th Amendment flag flapped in the wind outside of the Marvin K. Peterson Library, the voices of some of the powerful women on campus cut through the brisk March air to elevate their peers and bring in Women’s History Month.

The kick-off event was led by Ian Shick, the associate director of LGBTQ+ resources at the Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion, who spoke about the origins of Women’s History Month, the history of women’s painstaking fight for the right to vote and the current fight for the rights and acceptance of the transgender community.

“So this month, we celebrate women –– all women –– with their complexities, nuances and histories and we hope you join us at the many amazing events held this month,” Shick said.

After the flag was raised and a round of applause ensued, Shick introduced the first student speaker of the event, senior business management major and Vice President of the Women in Business club Abigail Murphy. Murphy dedicated much of her speech to the mistreatment of women in the workplace, detailing her own experiences of being overlooked and discomfort in finance courses, in what she called “a very male-dominated [field].”

“It is important for [women] to become visible, and it is very common for women to feel so uncomfortable that they make themselves invisible,” Murphy said. “That’s why I believe it’s important to empower women and to give them the tools and the confidence they need in order to make themselves visible.”

The next speaker was Brisa Velazquez, a junior international business management major and executive assistant of the Women of Color Collective. Velazquez highlighted her experience as a Mexican American and first generation college student, and encouraged students to tell their stories and surround themselves with people who will amplify them. She ended her speech with a quote from her mother.

“‘Si se puede,’ which roughly translates to ‘yes, you can do it,’ or ‘yes, it is possible,” Velazquez said. “She told me, ‘you have the power to speak up, and if you need a helping hand, [you can] always call me,’ so I always keep that by my heart.”

Aliza Johns, a senior mechanical engineering major and president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), followed with an overview of the organization and what it aims to do for women in STEM, as well as examples of gender bias in jobs pertaining to engineering and coding.

“[SWE’s] goal is to empower the younger generation and support them in all their scientific and engineering dreams,” Johns said.

Dayana Solano, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in forensic technology and sister of the Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc., talked further about the history of Women’s History Month. She venerated women near and far for “overcoming oppression, advocating for equality and navigating the intersectionalities within our modern era,” and being “unyielding trailblazers within American society.” Solano finished her reverential speech with a message to those in attendance.

“To all the women here today, know that you have bountiful opportunities ahead, and your willpower is, and always will be, your greatest asset,” she said. “Do not take no for an answer, and I shall be cheering you on as we continue to make history together.”

The final student speaker was Sankofa Benzo, a senior cybersecurity and networks major, president of the Women in Cybersecurity club and vice president of SWE. In her piece, Benzo rallied against fallacies perpetrated by society that women “must change the way [they] present [themselves] in order to receive grace and kindness.” She also used her platform to detail what Women’s History Month means to her, and how people can grow through education on it.

“I just want to take Women’s History Month as a time to educate, advocate and for us to become better individuals after this,” she said. “It allows us to celebrate and be grateful for the women who have come before us and those who continue to stand beside us.”

A keynote speech was delivered by Yanice Mendez-Fernandez, associate dean of the School of Health Sciences and 2023 Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Award winner. Mendez-Fernandez opened by crediting the previous speakers for so eloquently voicing the words she felt. She offered mountains of gratitude to all the women in her life, saying, “They did have that strength to instill in me the fire to pursue my dreams and find my place in the world,” and gave praise to women of marginalized communities past and present, for overcoming oppression and fighting for their lives to ensure a better tomorrow.

Closing remarks were delivered by Dean of Students and Chief Diversity Officer Ophelie Rowe-Allen, as she called upon the theme for this year’s Women’s History Month: “women telling our stories.”

Women are strong, they are capable and they deserve to be celebrated day in and day out; not just in the month of March.

For a full calendar of the month’s celebrations, check out the flier sent out in an email from Dean Rowe-Allen on Feb. 28.

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