National Women’s Equality Day in the U.S. was on Sunday, August 26, so in celebration of this day, the Illinois Tech Office of Campus Life (OCL) and Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) hosted an afternoon of free food, information, and networking on the afternoon of the following Monday, August 27 in the Bog’s recreation area. Specifically, the celebration was facilitated by Coordinator for Campus Life Lisa Combs from OCL as well as Physician Associate Pooja Louis, Assistant Director and Staff Psychologist Christine Reh, and Associate Vice Provost of Student Health and Wellness Anita Opdycke from SHWC.
After some brief introductions, the staff facilitators opened up the event to its free food and networking component. Each of the facilitating staff members are women in leadership positions themselves and had a designated theme that they were open to discussing with students in the fields of women’s equality and health. Combs, for instance, had handouts regarding financial health, specifically as a woman. She described her personal experience and background and how the majority of her knowledge in financial health has been self-taught. To help the students she interacted with at the event, she gave copies of a cheat sheet with basic personal finance definition and examples.
Louis from the SHWC had the designated theme of women’s health. There, she had information and handouts related to women’s health topics such as birth control and pap smears (used to test for cervical cancer in women). In addition, she also described her own experience as a woman in a STEM program and how the event as a whole was a great opportunity for women, as a minority on campus, “to come together to discuss our own experiences.”
Similarly, Reh’s topic was mental health. As a staff psychologist, she stressed the importance of “being proactive” with one’s mental health, “especially in such a rigorous environment.” Having plans and techniques for managing one’s stress and time just like one has a plan for studying is just one way an individual can go about living a mentally healthy life.
Finally, Opdycke discussed the topic of women in leadership by relating her professional trajectory to become the director of the SHWC. She specifically mentioned how the support of those close to her and her belief in her own convictions allowed her to succeed. “Sometimes, for women in leadership, if you have a strong voice, you can be labeled as ‘bossy,’ but sometimes you have to just swallow it for the greater good.” The rewards of her journey more than make up for the efforts extolled. “Even getting one phone call from one student is enough to know that we’ve done our job.”
These are but a few salient examples of prominent women in leadership roles on our campus. As our society and university strive towards greater equality based on one’s merits and abilities as opposed to demographics, it is helpful to be able to look back every now and then and celebrate the progress and achievements we have already made. A lot of work still needs to be done to attain a more satisfactory level of equality between the genders (among other factors), but taking the time to appreciate how far we’ve come already.