Women leaders speak at Laney College

By Terez McCall
Special to TheBlackHour.com
Five dynamic and accomplished women recently joined a panel discussion in the Laney College Student Center to share their inspirations and insights on the issue of gender and leadership.

Facilitated by the ASLC, the diverse panel included: Leslie Ewing, executive director of the Pacific Center; Nancy Nadel, Oakland City Council Member; Dr. Angela Smith, Chair of the Communications Department; Dr. Inger Stark, chair and acting dean of the Sociology Department; and Laney College Interim President Dr. Elñora Webb.

First, the panel was asked, "What challenges or barriers do you believe women still face?"

According to Dr. Stark, misogyny in the form of social and cultural values that "reflect women as less than" serve to hold women back. Dr. Webb expanded on this idea by discussing the pervasive "less than" mentality becoming part of women's personal identity and necessary work to overcome this.

Dr. Smith began her response by quoting Marianne Williams' assertion that "our deepest fear… is that we are powerful beyond measure." Allowing others to define us is a big problem that stems from dehumanization, she opined. After taking the time to analyze what values and beliefs serve us, "we can achieve transformation and challenge what others tell us we are".

Ewing referenced gender bias and sexuality as heavy challenges to face, stating that personal and societal acceptance is essential. Citing the statistic that one-quarter of gay hate crime victims are actually straight, she stressed that a person's presentation can't be easily "switched off" even if it is socially unacceptable.

Nadel specifically mentioned the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal funding for abortion) as discriminatory legislation that must be repealed. She also cited domestic abuse and rape as major barriers to an enriching life for women everywhere.

The next question was simply "Who is the most influential/ inspirational woman in your life?" These responses were the most varied and intimate of the event. Several very touching personal stories were shared about the poignant lessons learned from mothers, "sheroes," and friends.

Panelists cited notable women, past and present, such as educator and activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, famed feminist and gay rights activist Del Martin, pioneering Nobel laureate scientist Marie Curie, and social justice activist and author Arundhati Roy.

A key theme was that each woman had overcome the odds against her to do great things for herself and for others. Ewing described them as being "ordinary people who did extraordinary things."

Finally, the participants considered practical ways women could break the "glass ceiling" and enrich their lives locally and around the world. Suggestions included mentoring, working in solidarity to combat misogyny, and fostering a cooperative sense of "sisterhood" among women while acknowledging the challenges they each face.

Dr. Webb urged everyone to "first recognize and honor self, discover your passion or genius, and work at creating the reality you wish to see. Once this work is done, we can better see our connection and responsibility to one another, and act accordingly."

The event took place March 30 as part of International Womens' Month.

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