March 13, 2011

Students Celebrate International Women’s Day

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Culminating a week of events in celebration of International Women’s Day, members of the Cornell and Ithaca community came together to honor local women’s accomplishments.In celebration of the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day, more than 140 students, professors and community members gathered to recognize women in the Cornell and Ithaca communities on Sunday.

“Rather than just being an awards ceremony, we wanted to make it a celebration,” said Eva Drago ’12, a member at the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board and chair of its International Women’s Day Committee. The reception included a luncheon of international food and student performance groups.

18 women were recognized for accomplishments ranging from balancing a full-time graduate course load with raising children to initiating educational programs in the Lansing Correctional Facility.

The reception, sponsored by Women’s Resource Center and the African, Latino, Asian and Native American Programming Board, featured Ifunanya “Funa” Maduka ’04 — who served as Dean of Students and Director of Leadership Development at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls from 2006 to 2010 — as the keynote speaker.

Maduka spoke about gender discrimination she faced as a child in Virginia, about her mentorship of Alana, a student at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy and about her time as a student at Harvard Business School.

Maduka said that she deeply understood how tough experiences lead girls to doubt and undervalue their own worth.

“International Women’s Day is a day I hold very dear. Women are the backbone of society, as they have been for the institution of Cornell,” she said. “Many women, both students and staff, helped me through my undergrad years at Cornell … and I stand stronger because of them.”

Maduka called on women to challenge their own internalized fears.

“I know that being a woman everywhere takes a measurable amount of strength and fortitude. We can argue that there are still institutionalized glass ceilings, but I place only a portion of the blame there. So often the voice of ‘I can’t’ does not come from an external source. Often times it comes from something we are telling ourselves,” Maduka said. “I want to encourage us to stop.”

The speech moved some students to tears.

“I looked around the audience, and she had everyone teary-eyed with some of the things she said. It was a very moving keynote event,” said Ashley Garcia ’12, a co-organizer of the event and an ALANA ambassador to the Women’s Resource Center.

The WRC has planned similar events in past years to honor the work of women in the Cornell and surrounding communities, according to Drago. This year is unique because it marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day.

“There are so many issues on campus which women face that we don’t talk about that often, and it’s great to give women a platform to talk. The amazing thing about Cornell is that we draw women from all over the world, and we wanted to find commonalities between us while still celebrating the unique cultures we come from,” said Drago.

The reception culminated a week of IWD events, which included a dinner discussion about women in the Islamic world after 9/11,  a School of Industrial and Labor Relations panel on women in the workforce and a trip to Seneca Falls — the location of the 1848 women’s rights convention.

Drago said she hoped that IWD would spark discussion and begin progress toward true gender equality.

“I hope women will be able to walk home at night without being afraid, which is something men can do. I hope that a lot of the barriers that are here right now can be gone,” Drago said. “A lot of the conversations we’ve had, discussions we’ve had this week have given me hope that we’re making progress.”

Original Author: Emily Coon