Amber Vlasnik, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Thurgood Marshall College, University of California, San Diego
February 25, 2019
Women’s History Month (WHM) is almost here! This two-part post can be read any way you like. Interested in professional identity shifts and what celebrating WHM in March can do for a campus? Start from the beginning. Want to get to the action and explore 17 ways to celebrate WHM? Skip to Part Two. No matter how you decide to read, Happy Women’s History Month to you.
Part One: What’s To Love about Planning Women’s History Month?
Women’s History Month (WHM) is the time of year that used to fill me with varying levels of event planning anxiety as well as genuine excitement about creating and implementing an inclusive, thought-provoking program slate. For 12 years, I worked in campus-based women’s centers and planned dozens of programs—large and small—to commemorate women’s history and accomplishments, bring attention to contemporary women’s/gender issues, and to re/imagine a feminist future. It was exciting, challenging, often invigorating work done in collaboration with a changing cast of colleagues and students. And for those 12 years, I was fortunate to attend all the programs I worked so long and hard to plan. March was busy, fun, intellectually rigorous, and always felt very special.
A few years ago, I left the women’s center position I loved, moved cross country to finish my dissertation, and engaged in my first place-bound job search. While I am happy in my new position and am able to daily engage my commitments related to advancing institutional equity, diversity, and inclusion, I don’t plan WHM programs or events anymore.
The first year was strange. In the months leading up to March, there was a part of me that was really, really relieved to not be responsible for WHM logistics, planning, and advertising. I didn’t miss the hundreds of emails required to book space, speakers, and event necessities like microphones, chairs, or catering. I didn’t miss obsessively proofreading campus-wide email announcements or posters because a single error could invite harsh critique from a detractor or confuse an interested program attendee. And as March arrived in Ohio, I did not miss watching winter weather patterns to see if a speaker’s flight was going to be delayed or cancelled.
As the month neared, I was surprised that my feelings started to shift. I realized that there were aspects I did miss from being involved in the planning process. I missed working with faculty to generate ideas for speakers who would also enhance their classrooms. I missed deepening relationships with colleagues and students through the planning process. And I missed the ongoing discussions with colleagues about how to make the most inclusive, intersectional, and timely slate of programs possible.
As the first WHM approached in my new, non-women’s center role, I had all these feelings churning. By early February, I was checking campus websites looking for the WHM calendar to be released. Then, one day, I opened my email and was not disappointed. The topics were great! The keynote was someone whose scholarship I loved! I opened my calendar, ready to add events to my schedule. I was going to attend them all!
Imagine my surprise when I realized that I was completely unavailable during several of the events (mandatory training, a 10-person meeting I was leading, and a doctor’s appointment that I later tried to reschedule but could not). The keynote was during a meeting where my attendance was required. I went through the WHM calendar and by the end, there was not a single event I could attend.
Not. Even. One.
I still don’t have words to faithfully or fully describe how I felt during that first March of WHM. I did my best to encourage others (including colleagues in my office) to attend events. Students came back from them excited. One by one, all the events occurred. Women’s History Month was over and I did not attend a single event.
This experience did allow me to put words to what I loved—and missed—about WHM: the excitement of students when they meet a speaker who inspires them; the ideas shared among people who might not otherwise interact; and the conversations that continue in the women’s center, outside staff members’ offices, and in the classrooms of faculty who brought their classes to the programs and events. Personally, I greatly missed attending the programs I worked to plan and being able to examine new ideas and theories.
In addition to the story of my shifting professional relationship with WHM and the discovery of what’s to love about planning it, the first part of this post is an expression of deep appreciation to all who plan WHM events for their institutions. The labor—paid and unpaid—of these individuals should be named and their programs should be fully supported for the benefits they bring to our campuses. WHM can open critical conversations about the experiences of diverse individuals and communities, explore intersectionality, analyze discrimination and oppressions, and advance new voices, ideas, and strategies for social change.
Part Two: Celebrating WHM From Wherever You Are
I’m well aware that there are individuals who cannot or do not attend WHM events in March. Maybe no one plans them on your campus. Perhaps the events happen, but do not reflect who you are or issues about which you care deeply. Perhaps you have to work, study, or care for others such that you cannot attend events.
What follows is a list of ideas of how to celebrate/commemorate/diversify/make WHM more intersectional from wherever you are, whether your institution offers formal programming during the month or not. This list is not exhaustive, but is meant to be a conversation starter of how to mark the month in a way that feels authentic and exciting to you.
Actions Within/Across/Against the Institution
It’s almost March, and I’ve got my institution’s Women’s History Month programs marked in my calendar. This year is different, though, because if my schedule changes, I know I have other options to take action during the month that shaped so many years of my working life. And the best part is, I can work on these options year-round.
Amber Vlasnik is Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for Thurgood Marshall College at the University of California, San Diego. Formerly, Amber led the women’s centers at Louisiana State University and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She currently co-chairs the UC San Diego Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women and is attending as many Women’s History Month events as her schedule allows.
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