The Voices Behind ‘Women in Charge Wednesdays’
From promoting the Diversity & Equity survey to simplifying elections, Skidmore’s Student Government Association (SGA) has put inclusion at the forefront of this semester’s goals. And avid social media followers can attest to yet another outreach initiative: Women in Charge Wednesdays, a series highlighting the achievements and perspectives of female student leaders on campus.
Created by Communications and Operations Committee members Liza Bryan ’21 and David Robakidze ’20, the idea came in response to a perceived lack of diverse student leadership on campus. While Bryan acknowledges the greater proportion of female to male students at Skidmore, she argues that “even with our gender ratio being 60:40, it’s not that uncommon to have positions in leadership being predominantly male.”
Bryan referred specifically to SGA’s Executive Committee, which, up until the most recent election, was wholly male. While next semester will see a spike in gender and racial representation on most levels of SGA, Bryan remains wary of condescending attitudes male senators use towards “other senators, who are mostly female, and to people who are lower down in the hierarchy than their positions.”
Co-leader Amelia Schuster ’21 gauges unequal leadership as a trend not only in SGA but particular to the Skidmore community: “I talk to my sister who went to Brandeis, and I tell her about [the lack of female leaders], and she would be very shocked, stating that ‘Women run everything at Brandeis,’ and I was like, ‘How is Brandeis so different?’ I feel like it’s not a giant, systemic issue, but somehow Skidmore is different.”
Bryan, Robakidze and Schuster saw weekly interviews as a personable medium for raising awareness of lingering gender bias, as well as to celebrate and promote overlooked role models for future women in charge.
While featured women were previously limited to those the team knew of, the process transitioned to an online form in which all Skidmore students can nominate leaders they would like to see featured. The interview questions are consistent: name, class year, positions held, experiences as a leader and advice for other women in leadership. Interviewees can then elaborate on or disregard inquiries as necessary. After the interview, Bryan or Schuster will author the post and publish it to the SGA Facebook and Instagram accounts.
The initiative’s feedback has been considerably positive. Besides seeing supportive online comments, Bryan states that inspired students have even approached her about the series’ impact. She shares that “Somebody in [the dining hall] came up to me and said, ‘Hey, one of the reasons I joined Senate is because I recognized that there are people like you who are actually trying to recognize, support and encourage women to be in these positions.’”
In an effort to continue fostering change, the project snowballed into the Women’s Empowerment & Leadership Commission (WELCOMM). While the committee is still in its infancy, co-chairs Bryan and Schuster are designing WELCOMM to manifest the empowering concept behind Women in Charge Wednesdays into a substantial support system.
“Wherever we create space to articulate the things we experience as women, we’re perceived as being bitchy, out of control, whiny, and the concerns we collectively have are not taken seriously. It was really important to both create that space, but then also take action,” Bryan said. The committee’s goals for next semester include continuing Women in Leadership Wednesdays, leading round table discussions on women’s issues and introducing a monthly female president’s council to address specific problems that female leaders on campus bring to the group.
WELCOMM also plans to address unique leadership challenges on the shoulders of women of color and other intersectional identities.
“When I’ve [interviewed] women of color, I’ve recognized that it takes so much mental and emotional energy to be in a leadership position, especially when you feel like you’re representing these other communities that are marginalized on campus…There’s no one creating that support for them. That’s something that WELCOMM is trying to fix. But there’s only so much we can do. Me and Amelia, we’re both white cis women,” Bryan admits, adding that “we don’t want to push these positions onto women of color just because they are women of color. It’s finding that balance, which is really hard to do.”
Sophia Paulino Adames ’22, first year class president and a featured Woman in Charge, is hopeful about the waves already being made by the series and committee.
“As a woman and person of color on campus, it has been very rewarding to do things that I know will change Skidmore in favor of minorities whose struggles have been historically disregarded. Already, our next Executive Committee will be majorly composed by women…It is time to support and pay attention to those who have been put aside for so long