By Angela Tatem
I recently read an Elite Daily article entitled, “The types of girls you encounter at Union College.” After discussing it with my husband, a Union graduate, I thought of a discussion I was a part of recently with a few Union College women involved in Union’s interfaith community service initiatives. The students and I discussed having different world views, and the fact that we cannot be angry with someone else’s opinion if we do not share the same world view. I tried not to let the article’s author’s words anger me and told my husband, “His worldview is distinctly different from so many at Union.” In essence, he seems to not respect women, or journalism, and enjoys profiting off of stereotypes; this is a vastly different mindset from most students at Union College.
It is so liberating to not be offended by other’s words because in fact you feel sorry for them and pity that they did not experience everything that Union offers, mostly the opportunity to learn from (and with) so many Union women. I have worked here for the past 10 years and it has been so much more than a job or a career; it is in fact a lifestyle. It is a passionate lifestyle of work, play, learning, volunteering, giving, community, supporting one another and celebrating each other’s identities. It is not uncommon to hear from faculty and staff that we have the “best job in the world.”
What makes our jobs so wonderful and our lifestyle so grand? The students: mainly the young women at Union who are incredibly diverse in their backgrounds, faith, passions, abilities and leadership styles.
I am not sure if the author of the Elite Daily article has ever stepped foot in Schenectady but I can confidently give a much better list of the types of women one meets on this beautiful campus.
Women at Union cannot be defined simply by the article’s limited and demeaning categories– they are too dimensional to be categorized. For example, let me introduce you to a “typical” Union woman. She probably has two majors and one minor and holds leadership positions in at least two organizations, she has either studied abroad or has participated in a community service or civil rights mini-term, she volunteers in some way either with her roommate or with a campus group she is affiliated with.
There are women who serve as the leaders of the organization that helps to eradicate hunger by allocating a certain amount of food intended for the dining halls and preparing that food to create healthy and delicious meals for our local homeless shelter. This organization has been lead by a woman since its inception.
Yes, there are also sorority sisters on campus, and a “typical” sorority sister co-coordinates (with other Union College women) an afterschool educational program on campus that helps K-6 students increase their love for reading through art, books and crafts.
One reason our local Habitat for Humanity organization loves Union is because we just revitalized our H4H club, and it is soaring, hosting fundraisers, builds and more. Who started this revitalization and serve as the co-presidents? Two women.
Women athletes at Union are pretty much known for their big hearts. In fact, the women’s hockey team hosts a dance for children and teens with physical disabilities every year on campus. The women’s basketball team volunteers, even during the school breaks, and it is a part of their culture to invite anyone else staying on campus to join them. It is called “a culture of inclusiveness,” which is the direct opposite of the first article’s insinuation. They do not receive a lot of press or praise for this huge act of kindness because it is pretty typical of women at Union. They pretty much use their position of influence, whatever that may be, to make life better for the next person.
Oh, and Jewish women? If “princess” means contacting the volunteer office and asking how they can help as a community to raise money for new equipment for our adopted city park, then yes, the author is correct. It was the Jewish women who baked challah bread and sold it on campus to raise hundreds of dollars for our adopted park.
Union women proudly boast thousands of volunteer hours every year through mentoring, visiting the elderly, volunteering at animal shelters, horse rescues, serving as Girl Scout troop leaders, Best Buddies for the developmentally disabled, tutors for those struggling academically and the like. There is not enough room here to list all that Union women do, but visit our Volunteer Facebook page (www.facebook.com/kenneycenter) if you need more proof, or visit the Minerva Fellow blogs. After graduating this year, 5 women are volunteering in a developing country to share their talents and skills with not-for-profit organizations.
Union College women are not any of the stereotypes mentioned in the article; they are leaders who are bold and smart. You will find them taking action wherever there is injustice. They are bloggers, producers, spoken word artists, educators, and civil rights activists. And as far as racial diversity is concerned, they come in all shades of brown, black, white, and every other skin tone. We are a beautifully diverse campus, and because of this, Union goes beyond embracing the typical diversity buzzwords of race, economic status, sexual orientation, gender expression, etc. We encourage students to embrace all aspects of their identity, including their faith or non-faith traditions.
In the words of our commencement student-speaker Kadiatou Tubman ‘13, “In crossing this bridge, one that has been a lifeline between Union and the rest of the world, we have pushed our limitations, exceeded our expectations, and confronted opposition, while continuously moving forward. In many ways, we have become bridges, connecting our pasts to our futures, our differences to our similarities, our education to our activism, and our dreams to our reality. We are fortunate that Union has provided us the most essential things on this continuous march forward: the knowledge and tools to build bridges, but most importantly, the patience and courage to cross them.”
I see the previous article as proof that there are still bridges of ignorance to be crossed, but thank God our Union College women are more than equipped to cross them, wearing whatever they choose, including gym gear!
Angela Tatem is the Director of the Kenney Center.