By Song My Hoang
On Thursday, Feb. 20, the African Student Association (ASA) collaborated with the Asian Student Union (ASU) and Xi Omega Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. to hold a panel discussion, entitled Women and Power, in Wold House.
The discussion addressed the perceptions and roles of women around the world, as well as how they have transformed over the years.
President of ASA Owusu Mensah ’14 explained, “Our aim was to educate the campus about the misconceptions of women around the world. Growing up in Ghana, it was a normal sight to see women stuck in the kitchen. I knew there was something wrong about this.”
“I think that the perception of women has changed a lot over the years. However, there are subtle stereotypes that still exist,” he continued.
President of ASU Marjorie Chee ’14 was surprised with the high turnout of students at the event. It was her first collaboration with ASA.
“The discussion was still professional even though there was not a professor to lead it,” added Chee.
The discussion involved perspectives from various cultures around the world, such as the African American, African and Asian perspectives.
ASA started the discussion by asking the audience to provide their definitions of power and empowerment.
The audience was also asked to share their images of women in power or empowering others.
The audience imagined that a woman in power or empowering others would be compassionate, nurturing, opinionated and strong-willed.
One member of the audience defined the terms ‘power’ and ‘empowerment’ as the ability to influence other people as well as motivate them toward success.
ASA then asked the audience about how women empower themselves, as well as how they empower other women around them.
“I always aim to deconstruct the whole idea of a typical woman. I try to be myself and not be defined by society,” stated a female participant.
A student mentioned that she motivates herself by striving to achieve her personal goals.
Many participants agreed that a woman should feel confident to speak up for her opinions and ideas. “Sometimes it is difficult for women to communicate what they need when other individuals try to degrade them. I think it is important for women to be strong and push through this,” a member of the audience added.
Another student described self-empowerment as the ability to know one’s own worth. She said, “Once you know your value in society, nobody can take it away from you.”
A male student raised his opinion on the issue, “I think men empower women by showing them respect, love and support. We need to highlight their strengths instead of their weaknesses. This quality needs to be spread throughout the home and work field.”
ASA decided to tackle the common stereotypes about women. They asked the audience to express misconceptions about women in their cultures.
Chee explained that Asian women are traditionally expected to sacrifice their careers in order to start families. However, she admitted that the role of women in Asian cultures has transformed over the years because women are beginning to accelerate in the work field.
A member of the audience mentioned that women who desire the same power as men tend to be considered too assertive. “When a man tries to obtain power, he is viewed as determined and passionate.”
“However,” they explained, “there is a negative connotation associated with a woman who wants to achieve the same goal.”
She continued describing the two dynamics of women in modern society.
She stated that women could either be cold-hearted or docile and emotional. “Women still have to choose between the two options,” she commented.
“Society has a norm for women to follow. A woman is criticized once she steers away from the tradition,” said another student.
He continued, “These societal norms need to be broken down. It is important for men and women to coexist and help each other.”
After the discussion, ASA encouraged students to walk around the room to view poster presentations about women in power.
President of Xi Omega Chapter of Sigma Gamma Pho Sorority, Inc. Shahara Murphy ’14 commented, “The event was powerful. The different cultural perspectives about women allowed the audience to gain a broader view of the issue. I was pleased to see that everybody was engaged in the conversation.”
The event emphasized education as an essential means to empower women with the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to move from a state of enforced powerlessness to a position of power.