“You Can’t Be What you Can’t See,” suggests Jennifer Siebel Newsom in her award-winning film, Miss Representation.
What can you and prospective women students not see in this image from Western Illinois University’s website?
Women have composed more than half of all college students for over 30 years. Women are not a minority; in fact, we are the majority (51%) of the population. So, why aren’t the majority of 2017 alumni awardees women?
In my experience serving on award committees at WIU, two factors must be present for a committee to fairly consider giving an award to a woman:
- People have to nominate women.
- A feminist who will advocate for women must serve on the award committee.
When I served on the Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture committee, my colleagues often did not initially see how a woman’s application was compelling. We have learned to assume that men’s perspectives and achievements are more valuable and legitimate than women’s. We avoid examination of our own prejudices and narrow assumptions. In meetings, I would point out the strengths of a woman’s applications and say why her perspective was important, and each year I advocated for a woman (twice) the majority of committee members voted in her favor.
When I was on the Hallwas Lecture committee, in our “Call for Nominations” we crafted a sentence that said we wanted to consider applications that, in terms of gender, sexual, and cultural diversity, expressed a range perspectives, and we wanted to hear from faculty from underrepresented groups. I did not want to see us default to privileging traditional voices of power.
In light of the fact that women’s freshman enrollment has taken a plunge, the WIU Alumni Association might follow this lead in encouraging diversity of nominations–unless, of course, WIU alumni want to discourage diversity. One alum turned WIU professor wrote me an email that said I was wrong to advocate for diversity. We cannot assume people appreciate various perspectives. What we can assume is that WIU relies on women’s tuition.
The WIU Alumni Association sponsors 7 different awards, so there’s plenty of room to recognize women’s achievements.
One line of the criteria, however, may discourage women’s nominations:
- Exceptional service in support of the advancement and continued excellence of WIU.
Women who are mothers often work two jobs–one for pay and one for children at night, and because of this factor, how would we have time to support the advancement and excellence of WIU?
Also, there’s a wage gap–women make an average of 80% of what men make, for the same work (WIU is an exception, thanks for the minima–WIU must protect minima). Women have less money to donate to WIU, but does that make there achievements less great?
In addition, women often choose creative lines of work. One friend of mine is an incredibly successful artist, but she had to teach high school art for 17 years while she pursued her own painting in the evenings. She’s worked two shifts. How would she have the time and money to provide exceptional service to WIU? If this line of criteria is an obstacle to recognizing women, it should be waived.
Why hasn’t Kelly Eddington received the Distinguished Almumni Award? Maybe no one has nominated her.