Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

One of five speakers featured at the event addresses the crowd at the inaugural International Women’s Day Conference.

March 6, 2018

Inaugural International Women’s Day Conference Offers Space to ‘Openly and Honestly Attend a Feminist Event’

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A lineup of all-female speakers addressed the crowd on social justice issues, the importance of women in STEM and the reality of being both a woman and a Cornellian at Cornell’s inaugural International Women’s Day Conference on Saturday afternoon.

“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people can openly and honestly attend a feminist event,” Elena Gupta ’19, president of the Smart is Strong Foundation, told The Sun.

Gupta kicked off the talk with a call to acknowledge the flaws of education which she said is “often hailed as the great equalizer.”

“As Ivy League students, we recognize the power and privilege that has been awarded us,” Gupta said. “Our hope is … to break the glass ceilings that exist in the workplace by beginning with those that exist in the classroom.”

First to speak was Delmar Fears ’19, co-chair of Black Students United, who elaborated on the reality of what black people in America, both male and female, need in order to thrive.

“We want freedom,” she said. This freedom, according to Fears, can only be achieved through a combination of jobs, education, housing, healthcare, peace, and safety, all of which BSU has worked toward achieving at Cornell.

Other speakers addressed problematic cultural customs. Shaibyaa Rajbhandari ’18, recalled that in her home in Nepal, women who were menstruating were separated from family members until after their periods.

Rajbhandari refused to participate in an annual ritual in which women apologize for the food, water and men that they touched the year before while menstruating. She ran from her home to school, where she was one of the only girls in attendance.

She thought back to this when she came to Cornell, where she became involved in the business community. “You have this vision of the United States… everything is going to be perfect, I’m going to be an equal,” she said. “I was proven wrong completely.”

Myra Gupta ’19, the founder of Girl Code, an organization that teaches middle school girls programming, noted that both of her parents were in the technology field, so she was exposed to the industry a lot as a child. “I had a lot of privilege growing up that I know my peers weren’t afforded,” she said.

Once she came to Cornell, however, she realized the same could not be said of many young women. When she tried to start a chapter of Girl Code in Ithaca, she could only find eight students willing to participate. Back home, the chapter had a waiting list.

The event also featured a race-centered talk by Traciann Celestin ’19, co-chair of BSU, who addressed the reality of being a black woman in higher academia. Celestin was awarded a scholarship to a prestigious private high school in New York City, where she was the only black woman in her graduating class.

“My call to action is to appreciate the black women that you see on this campus, that you see in your lives, that you see in media, that you see all around you,” she said. “I’m very proud to be a black woman.”

In a talk that explored the difficulties many women face as first-generation, low-income students, Mayra Valdez ’18 said, “To say that I felt out of place [when I came to Cornell] was an understatement,” she said. “I attend a school where the tuition costs twice my family’s income.”

Attendees to the conference expressed approval for the message and execution.

“I thought it was really important to have a conversation on this topic,” said Zoya Mohsin ’21. “As an international student and a woman of color … it was really interesting.”

Throughout the conference, the speakers and organizers emphasized the necessity of giving voice to women who need to be heard.

“We are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Elena’s speech concluded. “It is our job to continue along this path so that others may stand upon ours.”