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Women’s History Month Taps AU’s ‘HerStory’

CDI - Women's History Month 2013

Women’s History Month has just wrapped up, closing the book on perhaps the most packed calendar of events for the month in AU history.

Kerry Diekmann, coordinator for women’s & gender programming in AU’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion, helped organize and oversee the month’s happenings. She believes it was a campus-wide effort that made programming for the month such a success.

“I was extremely impressed by the number of individuals from various offices and organizations across the university that wanted to participate and have programs,” she says. “It’s been overwhelming and incredible to see the energy and excitement behind Women’s History Month.”

Under the theme “HerStory Inspires,” AU departed from the National Women’s History Month’s theme of celebrating women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For Women’s Initiative director of women’s empowerment Crystal Shatzer Espie, this switch in themes allowed for a broader look at celebrating and recognizing women.

“It was a way to capture that without making it solely about STEM. It was also a way to highlight women and the roles that they play…really empowering women through the different events that we’re holding,” she says. “So, HerStory is more of a way to zero-in on just women and the roles women have played throughout history, the future, and currently.”

The month’s official calendar featured 31 events, ranging from an off-campus 100th anniversary march for women’s suffrage to forums and a women in leadership symposium sponsored by Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Students even attended a film and panel discussion sponsored by the White House.

Events continue into April, as AU will host a DC Commission for Women town hall April 16th on how the city and its citizens can help address women’s issues. Shatzer Espie, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and School of Public Affairs, is the only student on the commission.

“It’s fantastic that we had so many events,” she says. “We weren’t even able to put descriptions on the calendar because of how many events there were. Back in the 70s, [AU] had a Women’s History Week. It was only like five events. It’s great to see how far AU has come and evolved to support women on campus.”

GET INVOLVED: Attend the DC Commission for Women town hall.

Hannah Sydnor-Greenberg is a junior women, gender & sexuality studies major and director of Women’s Initiative (WI), a department within AU’s Student Government. She says that, aside from encouraging student turnout and participation, she thinks having CDI’s Diekmann on campus for this year’s celebrations has made all the difference.

As of last fall, Diekmann’s position – along with CDI – is brand new.

“Having her being accessible to students and really reaching out has been amazing because, without her, this wouldn’t have happened,” Sydnor-Greenberg says. “She’s just a good support system with the rest of CDI. Having someone whose focus is women and gender equity is crucial to doing programming like this and having support for student advocacy. She’s great.”

In coordination with WI’s Women’s History at American University event, Diekmann and Shatzer Espie both combed the university archives for word on celebrations past as well as important female figures that helped build AU into the institution it is today.

“With the law school, two women actually founded it. Of the founding trustees of AU, three of them were women,” Diekmann explains. “Women were among the first students on campus…We have a really cool history of how women helped start things here at AU.”

LEARN MORE: Alice Paul and the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade.

Both Sydnor-Greenberg and Shatzer Espie count themselves as founding, executive members of the women, gender & sexuality program’s new honor society Iota Iota Iota – something that puts them in AU’s history alongside law school founder Alice Paul and SPA’s first dean, Cathryn Seckler-Hudson. With this history in mind and AU’s location in the nation’s capital, Sydnor-Greenberg is quick to note the significance of Women’s History Month here.

It’s something that will keep the month growing with each passing year and every group of increasingly engaged students.

“With AU being such a political campus, Women’s History Month helps draw out the political aspect of what women can do and what women can accomplish,” she says. “It’s important to draw attention to where we’ve come from, what we’re doing, and what we can do in the future.”