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Students Define ‘Feminist’ to Open Women’s History Month Celebration

womens-histories-115Among a packed classroom in the Wedgewood Academic Center, a panel of seven Belmont students offered unique and profound interpretations on “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like,” the opening convocation in the University’s celebration of Women’s History Month.

Associate Professor of English Dr. Amy Hodges-Hamilton, who is co-chairing the 2015 celebration with Sociology Professor Dr. Andi Stepnick, noted that the national theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is “Weaving Women’s Stories.” As part of her introduction for Monday’s panel, she shared how 2011 Humanities Symposium keynote speaker Maya Angelou inspired her own story and helped her reclaim her voice during her daughter Grace’s cancer battle. Hodges-Hamilton explained to Angelou her stress over caring for Grace while also juggling her career and remaining strong for herself and her family. “[Angelou] stopped me and with her God-like voice spoke these words: ‘All you have to pray every morning is this: God give me Grace.’ And that he has.”

With that, she invited the seven Belmont students to share their own stories as women. Anneke Doeve, a senior majoring in social entrepreneurship, spoke of the ministry she works with that seeks to build relationships with female dancers at strip clubs, upholding their dignity and value as women in the midst of a culture that sees them as less than. “Every person has a right to exercise authority over his or her own life… We live in a culture where people are treated unfairly because of gender and the roles we are expected to play.”

Philosophy and international politics double major Khadija Ali Amghaiab, a freshman, related her approach to feminism with her hijab, the traditional Muslim veil. Born in Canada to Libyan immigrants, Ali Amghaiab and her family moved to the U.S. eight years ago. “The hijab helps me reconcile my Muslim heritage with my Western upbringing. It’s a form of modesty, and for me, it serves as an equalizing factor between men and women in our religion. I never worry about how my hair looks or what I’m wearing. I’ve gotten a lot of empowerment from the hijab and the experiences I’ve had wearing it, so feminism for me has become a channel through which I can reconcile my identities.”

Other panelists–including Keayana Robinson, Ashley Virgin, Courtney Bright, Anna Randolph and Jenifer Abercrombie–discussed expected roles among family dynamics, professional career paths and personal relationships, noting how their gender leads to false expectations and second guessing. Robinson, a senior English major and mass communication minor, perhaps summed up the conversation best, telling of the empowerment she felt in sharing her full identity with the world as a self-identified queer, African-American woman. “Feminism, at least for me, is about a woman finding her voice and fighting for other women who have yet to find theirs.”

A number of other events are planned as part of the Women’s History Month celebration, including a convo March 16 on women academics from Dr. Stepnick, a film screening March 23 and a visit March 30 from author Dr. Adina Nack. For additional details, see the campus calendar.