October 27, 2020

What does feminism look like at Webster University?

What does feminism look like to you? Feminism looks like the Sisters of Loretto for the director of the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs Colette Cummings.

By: Amber Bowen

Webster University is advertised as an inclusive community of students, staff and administrators. This advertisement includes classes within the curriculum taught here at Webster through courses like Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies (WGST).

WGST is a program of studies offered within the College of Arts and Sciences Anthropology and Sociology Department. The WGST courses offered at Webster take an intersectionalist feminist approach to the study of women, gender and sexuality.

“In WGST courses, students can expect to find discussion-based classes that encourage them to grapple with problems and issues they confront in their everyday lives. Students often report that these are their favorite classes at the university because they help them think through so many aspects of their lives—their relationships, their places of work, the political arena—and because these courses open their eyes to experiences and problems they didn’t know existed,”  Kate Parsons, Director of WGST, said.

WGST courses are for students interested in expanding their critical thinking skills and discussing topics of feminism, gender oppression and sexualities.

“I do think all students should consider taking at least one WGST course, not only because the courses are fun and enlightening, but also because employers are looking for some training in sensitivity to diverse experiences,”  Parsons said.

“Social justice is at the forefront of the topics we discuss. In the intro course, we spend a lot of time unpacking social issues, inequalities and oppression from a feminist perspective. We spend a lot of time thinking about how our individual experiences are often part of a larger social problem,”  Christina Chekoudjian, Professor of Sociology and WGST, said.

There are various interpretations of the definition of feminism, which are exhibited among Webster University students, staff and administrators.

“I see feminism as a lens, orientation, perspective and/or position from which one views any number of aspects of human interaction and community. It can be a vantage point for advocacy for individuals’ rights; for uses of language; for decisions about curriculum and pedagogy; for equality based on gender (including many implications of intersectionality) as defined politically, economically, sociologically and so on. As feminism has evolved in complexity of viewpoints over time and across cultures, it is more useful for me to think of it in these inclusive ways rather than in more singular ways,” Chancellor Elizabeth Stroble said.

“To me, being a feminist is being not only supportive of gender equality, but consciously promoting women, reading about women and being an example for all people of what a woman is… I identify as a feminist because I am a woman who believes in equal right and equal treatment, and beyond equal right I want to fight for better health care and reproductive rights. I want to see the treatment of women by our governments, businesses and individual relationships become not only fair, but sufficient beyond the needs of men,”  Lainey Jester, Webster sophomore, said.

Members of the Webster community experience feminism in different ways. For some, it is a vital priority of the work they do. Colette Cummings, Director of the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs, advocates for underrepresented students, such as those who belong to the LGBT community and other groups.

“The best examples of feminism I have experienced or witnessed at Webster are my knowledge and understanding of the history of Webster and getting to know some of the Sisters of Loretto. Those nuns were the definition of feminist. They had the foresight and fortitude to start a college for women in 1915 in St. Louis, MO… and most recently the creation and funding of the Women and Gender Studies program,”  Cummings said.

Advocating for feminism and identifying as a feminist hold different meanings. Stroble explains that, though she has educated herself on feminism studies and advocates for equality regarding gender, she avoids labeling herself a feminist.

“My gender and my lived experiences as a woman are one of the ways in which I view the world and my role in it as a human, a daughter, mother, educator, chancellor, just to name a few of the roles I occupy. My focus on building inclusive communities has been shaped and influenced by many factors, not only gender, and I typically resist labels that can be seen or used by others in ways that limit my community or stereotype my viewpoint,” Stroble said.

Jester explains she witnesses feminism as a student on campus by seeing successful professors educate students, representation within the media center, student employment and “all the hard-working women at the University Center that keep that food court up and running.”

“This topic [feminism] is always at the top of my mind as I work to lead the Multicultural Center and International Affairs in advocating for underrepresented students, both domestic and international, to get the information, services and programs they need to be successful in their academic pursuits at Webster. It is also at the top of my mind as I help to plan and deliver training sessions to students and staff on a wide range of topics related to diversity and inclusion. While it may not always be how I refer to issues, my definition of feminism drives the work that I do for students at Webster, and my service within the community,” Cummings said.

Feminism is a principle that is significant to the Webster University community in various ways. From students experiencing life on campus to staff and administration who work to ensure students have an adequate academic experience, Webster exemplifies an understanding of feminism and those who identify as feminist.

So what does feminism look like? Advocating for equality regardless of gender, sex or sexuality is what feminism looks like. Working to help underrepresented students is what feminism looks like. Creating events and safe spaces for the community to learn and speak about these topics is what feminism looks like. Feminism can be practiced in a number of different ways.

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