March is Women’s History Month in the U.S. and across the world, and for more than 30 years EIU has committed itself to commemorating this designation with an offering of related programs and events for its students, faculty and the surrounding community.
This year is no different, as the Women’s Studies program has again spearheaded a full slate of WHAM (Women’s History and Awareness Month) events themed “Wo/men in Nature and Nurture” and scheduled to kick off Wednesday, Feb. 26. There’s a full slate of programming available online, with offerings ranging from concerts to poetry readings to related presentations from EIU faculty members.
A keynote address from Dr. Jessica Pierce is sponsored by the Center for Humanities and slated for March 26, while the Women’s Studies Annual Awards Ceremony will take place March 31 at Seventh Street Underground.
Eastern students are especially encouraged to participate in the Living History Program, which is featured in the video on this page. For nearly 20 years, participating students have chosen a woman in history to research. With that research, the student develops a costume and 10-minute speech in that historical figure’s voice and presents both at local elementary schools.
Another marquee event is the Central Illinois Film Festival, the brainchild of Robin Murray from the Department of English. Now in its seventh year, the festival features screenings of existing films each day from March 17-20. The other component is a judged competition; in past years, this contest has featured submissions from both local and international filmmakers covering a broad range of related subject matter.
Dr. Murray, who also happens to serve as this year’s WHAM committee chair, says the importance of recognizing Women’s History Month at EIU is aligned with the mission of the university’s Women’s Studies program.
“We want to promote an understanding of how issues related to gender, age, race, economic status, sexual identity and nationality affect women’s and men’s lives and the communities in which they live,” said Dr. Murray. “In order to promote an equitable and sensitive environment for all persons, Women’s Studies also responds to issues affecting women and men on campus and in the community.”
Jeannie Ludlow, another English faculty member and the Women’s Studies coordinator, echoes those sentiments, pointing out that the field has broadened significantly into a study of all genders.
“The goal of Women’s Studies is not to show a unique perspective different from everyone else,” said Dr. Ludlow. “It’s actually to look at everything everyone else looks at, but look at it specifically through the lens of gender. That’s really what we’re interested in, and I think men would be just as interested.
“We try very hard to have representation in all our events and create diversity. We want to appeal to people across all genders; not everyone is either man or woman, so we want to respect transpeople and transpersons’ interests. We want to deal with race as well as gender, because we also look at the intersections of race, class, religion, and age. “
Murray is confident the event schedule “offers something for just about anyone” and believes the nature/nurture theme, which is also central to Dr. Pierce’s research and keynote address, can be applied to all of us.
“We’re all part of nature, but also all have been nurtured by our culture and experiences in a variety of ways,” said Murray. “The events on our calendar showcase the multiple ways we become the people we are.”
Ludlow arrived at EIU in 2008 and says WHAM was a well-oiled machine long before she got involved. She credits the hard work of the Women's Studies program members and the support of the university as a whole and says WHAM couldn’t be conducted on such a large scale without campus-wide contributions.
“We couldn’t pull off this many events without lots of people collaborating and working together to make it happen,” said Ludlow. “The university is incredibly supportive of this and we’re very grateful for that support. We have a budget line for Women’s History Month and we’re very happy to have that.
“I count on the support of my own department chair in English, Dr. Dana Ringuette, and my dean, Dean Bonnie Irwin in the College of Arts and Humanities, but we also have people from departments all over campus. We have education professors, professors in the sciences, professors in the professional programs, who participate in this. Their chairs and their deans support us as well, and we feel lucky to have the support of so many people on campus.”