Does Vanderbilt Still Need Feminism?

Yes. The answer is yes.

The Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center hosted a panel on feminism at Vanderbilt this past week in a series of events celebrating the center’s 40th anniversary on campus. It was amazing to come together with men and women from all different walks of life and discuss why Vanderbilt still does, and will likely always, need feminism.

Panelists Agatha, Peiton, Erin, and Emilie — all Vanderbilt women with a passion for Women and Gender Studies — answered our pressing questions.

What do you think the definition of feminism is?

Feminism is equality for everyone, regardless of gender, identity, race, or ability level. It cannot exist without considering people from all demographics, and there is no feminism if the equality is not for everyone. Feminism also extends beyond just social equality, pushing for political and economic equality for all humans as well. Feminism looks to dismantle societal and social norms that perpetuate inequality within society, hopefully creating a society that is mutually shaped to meet everyone’s needs.

Do you see any inequalities between men and women at Vanderbilt?

Erin, a female student athlete at Vanderbilt, noted that there is a huge discrepancy in the notoriety of male sports and female sports on our campus. We so heavily push football that we don’t notice our female teams, including our golf team (#1 in the nation!), our soccer team (#1 in the SEC!), our bowling team (national champions!), and so many more. Within the sports therapy center, women are required to wear shirts (they cannot solely wear a sports bra), while men are not resigned to the same standards. While respecting your space and respecting other athletes should be the policy, it simply is not. As a female athlete herself, Erin just wants our women to be recognized and given a voice within this campus.

Agatha reminded us that Vanderbilt is not impervious to social structures that exist within general society. We so often see that in professional and political spaces it is easier to acquire power if you look a certain way, and there is still so much to be done in the world of academia.

Where, if anywhere, do you see that Vanderbilt still needs feminism?

Vanderbilt still shows many shortcomings in representation of different groups, especially in those we hire as professors. Our housing accommodations show very little inclusivity, and often make students that require specific accommodations feel like a burden to the university. The LGBTQIA+ community on campus is almost entirely erased, and safety continues to be an issue.

Vanderbilt is simply a microcosm of larger society; until feminism isn’t needed in the world, it will always be needed on our campus.

What have we done already on campus to improve the status of women?

Vanderbilt’s offering of both Women and Gender Studies (WGS) courses and African American and Diaspora Studies (AADS) courses has taught many students how to help “make our walk in this world a little bit better”, says Peiton, a black woman in her fourth year at Vanderbilt. While Vandy offers amazing classes in these two fields, there are still so many groups that are underrepresented in our course material--whether it is Latinx or Native studies, we still have a long way to go.

Peiton also pointed out that Vanderbilt faculty, staff, and administration (especially deans) that are women work especially hard to mentor other women entering into academia. Finding a powerful woman that supports your path can be vital to not only a successful four years at Vanderbilt, but also can help you in putting together a personal board of directors to help drive important life decisions.

What advice would you give to yourself as a first year student, looking back?

Find a mentor. Find someone who has walked a similar path; finding a mentor can alleviate the stress of being here on campus as a woman, especially if you are a woman of color.

“Build a village. You have to have a village around you, or Vanderbilt will swallow you whole and spit you back out.” After you find your village? “For Heaven’s sake, listen to them!”

Don’t be afraid to make connections with people who aren’t as similar to you as you are used to; incorporate people into your life that you may not have thought about connecting with in the past.

“Don’t fault yourself for wanting to be comfortable. Find your space, find your village.”