Essay / Nina Knorr

Inside the Women’s Empowerment Initiative at Champlain College

nina knorr

“These just aren’t numbers. These are our friends. These are our daughters. These are our neighbors. These are your classmates.” The Gym’s television was set on CNN, and as I read the captions of Joe Biden’s speech, my feet bouncing up and down on the treadmill, I decided that I needed to do something.

It was maybe a year ago when I decided to dedicate some thought to all of the women I know who have felt unsafe. I remembered a time my first year at Champlain when I walked down South Willard Street to get home, and I was followed by unwanted company to the point where I decided, for my safety, I would not walk home. I would walk downtown where there are lots of people so that this man could not know where I lived.

When I told my friends, they said, “Well you shouldn’t have been walking alone,” and I agreed. But now as I process it more, and as the years go on, and more incidents like this have happened to me, I wonder why men are taught that women aren’t supposed to walk alone. And why are women taught that if they are walking alone, that’s some excuse to be followed… or worse?

You might wonder why I’m talking about this when I want to talk about women’s empowerment, and the answer is that sexual and physical violence against women– its prevalence in our city of Burlington, our country, and our media– is the personification of the degradation of women.

In fact, this is an issue so important to women’s rights and empowerment, that Obama interrupted the Grammy’s to tell the nation that “Rape is not okay.” Sexual assault is the systemic product of a patriarchal society. It is the product of a world that ignores women’s history, poorly represents them in the media, and pays them less for doing the exact same job as a man. To me, this is all connected.

I like to think that this feeling of fear is sort of a common ground that all women can relate to. Who hasn’t had that feeling of being in danger, then blaming themselves because of their biological parts?

If you haven’t had an experience like this, I’m glad. But I would say that most women have. I have this idea that talking about things that are unempowering draw attention to the power structure in our society. I think it’s necessary, and that this issue draws attention to macro issues that we face as a college, and as a nation.

I am the Student Coordinator of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative at Champlain College. I see my primary role as a leader and a liaison between staff, faculty, administration, and students. I’m proud of my role. While I have been greatly empowered by this role and hope to empower any and all genders alike to make the choices that we need to become a more progressive college, I want to acknowledge the entirety of the issue of inequality–not only where I go to college, but the world as a whole. Women’s issues aren’t just for women to be concerned about. It’s for everyone.

I would like to ask that anyone who is reading this separates my leadership role for a moment, and allows me to write freely, as a female student at Champlain College.

To me, this is about contributing to our nation in terms of women’s issues, and attempting to become a global citizen through this. It’s about being intentional in my actions to empower other female students. I believe with education and empowerment initiatives, we can help reverse the line of thought that tells us that women can’t work in the STEM field. Or that, as a woman, you are at fault for a man harassing you.

In the 2013 academic year, 64% of students were male, and 36% were female (champlain.edu). This is in a stark contrast to the rest of the nation, in which women are overtaking men in numbers on college campuses. I have a hunch that it’s because of our popular programs– you know, the ones that society tells women that they aren’t really supposed to do.

Champlain’s small classroom sizes lend to an environment where there can be a small amount of females in a class, and female students often feel pressured to speak for their entire sex without the proper education and without feeling empowered to do so. That’s what I want to work together to fix. We’re not just numbers. You are not just a body to sit in the classroom. You have opinions, you have ideas. We need to make that 36% count.

Champlain College leads in technology, and we have an amazing Game Design Program. Our Stiller School of Business is beautifully built and beautifully run. Champlain is surely an up and coming school. But shouldn’t such an up and coming school be at the forefront of social progress as well?

I want to be clear, I am not blaming any single entity for this. There is no particular person at fault. Maybe it’s societal, economic, or political. Maybe it’s cultural. I don’t know.  But our change is moving slowly.

We need to be at the forefront of social progress. We need to be championing women’s rights. This is where the students come in.

This is a call to action, Champlain College. Do not be discouraged in your fight for equality, because you are not alone. Take a stand. I like to think that everyone has a little Susan B. Anthony in them, a little Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who said, “The whole of history is one upward struggle to equality.”

Joe Biden said, “These are your classmates, these aren’t just numbers.”

Don’t be afraid to speak out in classes, and on campus. You have a voice here, use it. This is a message to all genders, people from all walks of life. It is imperative that we, as students, become more of a catalyst for change.

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