Project highlights feminism.
On Mother's Day in 1980, Rollins alumna and National Organization for Women (NOW) cofounder Muriel Fox participated in a march for the Equal Rights Amendment in Chicago, Illinois. It’s not often that students of history are given the opportunity to interview and interact with the subjects they are studying. But that’s exactly the situation 12 Rollins women found themselves in this year.
Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Education Wendy Brandon and Associate Professor of Philosophy Ryan Musgrave, 12 students in the women’s studies minor spent the summer interviewing and collaborating with one or more Veteran Feminists of America (VFAs), as part of a student-led oral history project that will culminate in the Rollins Feminist Forum on October 29 and was featured in USA Today.
The opportunity arose in November 2010, when National Organization for Women (NOW) co-founder and Rollins alumna Muriel Fox returned to Rollins as part of the College’s 125th anniversary celebration. Fox was interested in meeting with Rollins’ women’s studies faculty and discussing a possible forum around the 45th anniversary of NOW. Fox shared her ideas with several women at Rollins, including Winter Park Institute Executive Director Gail Sinclair, who supported Fox’s belief that this was a “wonderful opportunity for collaboration between students, faculty and key participants in the important work of raising awareness for equality.” To that end, 12 veteran feminists, including Gloria Steinem, were on board for the Women’s Forum.
“Muriel has an extensive network of amazing women who were willing to take part in something,” says Brandon. “These are women who want their legacy to be passed on, but who have little or no contact with young people. And the students could get to know these women, be inspired by them, instead of just reading about them.”
The Veteran Feminist Activists were all actively involved in the modern women’s movement in the ’60s and ’70s. After the 12 Veteran Feminists were selected, each student was assigned one or more to research and interview for the oral history project. The interviews were conducted over the phone and over Skype.
“I had such an inspiring conversation with Zoe [Nicholson],” says student Jamie Pennington (Class of 2011). “She fully believes what she stands for and has such in-depth knowledge. Since we did the interview over Skype, we got to see each other’s reactions and connected and shared emotions on many different levels. We learned we both love to read and have extensive libraries, but we also shared strong opinions on issues such as oppression — and not just of women, but anyone who is oppressed.”
“While part of the assignment was to get on equal footing, it was overwhelmingly daunting to try to get on an equal plane with these women,” says student Emily Higgins (Class of 2012). “But Heather [Booth] was exactly how I imagined her, so willing to tell me her personal history and share with me her untold stories.” With the students’ interviews complete, Brandon will review the oral histories, analyze the data with the class and determine the structure for the forum.
“One of our goals of this assignment was for the students to grow in their identity as an activist or feminist,” says Brandon. “Many young women understand the ideology of feminism, but they don’t know what it means to have a feminist identity. The VFAs experienced oppression in a very visceral way. How could we expect the students to understand what happened 40 or 50 years ago?”
Initially, Higgins said she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a feminist due to the stereotypes that exist. “Feminism is really about human justice and gender equality,” she says. “I want people to understand all that being a feminist means. So with this assignment, I felt like it was my duty to know these women’s stories, share their experiences and find a community.”
A presentation of the student-led oral history project and panel discussions with the 12 leading VFAs are just two of the events that will take place during Rollins’ Feminist Forum, “Still Moving that Mountain: Feminism Past and Future” on Saturday, October 29. A keynote by activist Gloria Steinem on October 28, a conversation between Steinem and former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder on October 29 and a performance by the Guerilla Girls, also on the 29th, round out the Forum. For more information on these events, please visit rollins.edu/wpi.