g Womyn’s Studies program, in conjunction with the Womyn’s Center, hosted a panel on the systemic suppression of the voices of those who identify as women in academia titled “Silence and Finding One’s Professional Values.”
The panel included Wittenberg professors Heather Wright, Sha’Dawn Battle and Andrea Stathopoulos from the political science, English and biology departments, respectively. The panel was moderated by senior Joey Sechrist, who wanted to “create a space where panelists may speak unreservedly about [their] experiences” and the “experience of women not limited to the white, heterosexual, upper-class woman.”
The three panelists answered questions relating to the systemic silencing of women’s voices in academia, such as feeling less credible than male colleagues and lacking confidence in one’s academic abilities.
Wright, the first to speak, discussed how she second-guessed herself as an academic, especially as a graduate student.
“I have a Ph.D.; I’m a Fulbright scholar; I publish articles and I still feel I’m not smart enough to do things I want to do,” Wright said. “I still have that feeling I want to rid myself of over time. It made finishing my dissertation challenging for me; I felt like I couldn’t do it. I just remember feeling so trapped. I would bring myself back to it, bring myself back to it, bring myself back to it. I remember at the time, my dissertation advisor saying to me, in my defense, such incredibly affirming things: that I had earned this. She communicated to me that one of the reasons for working this hard is to get myself in a position where I can help other women.”
Wright further discussed one way in which she, specifically, has been silenced in academia: through an inability to find journals willing to publish her writing, which mainly focuses on how platonic political theory meets modern feminist thought.
“My work is so interdisciplinary that I have been silenced by trying to find the right place to publish an article,” Wright said. “For one journal, it wasn’t invested enough in classic literature; in another, the reviewer said it wasn’t feminist enough.”
Battle similarly discussed the struggles she experienced as a graduate student, but through the lens of her identity “as a black woman, as a black body, as a woman who sometimes subscribes to normative gender norms, or sometimes does not subscribe to respectability politics.”
“I want to be clear, I don’t want to frame my inter-sectional identity as a burden because I really love the layers of myself,” Battle said, before recalling a poignant story from her graduate experience at the University of Cincinnati.
“When I got to UC, Dr. Bailey kept telling me: ‘there’s a woman you need to see.’ Meanwhile, my peers deemed the woman difficult,” Battle said. “However, I accepted the challenge. I found she was incredibly demanding—it was a struggle to the point where I thought I didn’t want to do graduate school. She was training me to become a peer though—pointing out my blind spots and cleaning up my writing. I asked her to serve on exam and dissertation committee, and my peers didn’t think I was gonna pass. It wasn’t until I matured, that I understood what was happening—she was tenured at 26, and had a right to demand the things she was demanding—but they [Battle’s peers] were looking at it like she was a black woman who didn’t have the right to set the bar so high; they were denying her access to an intellectual tradition. The rhetoric they were using were painting broadly her as the ‘angry black woman,’ and she was not able to speak for herself as an academic in a white, patriarchal space,” Battle said.
Stathopoulos also discussed her graduate experience through the lens of her STEM career and her Ph.D. focused on neuroscience.
“Whenever I said I was studying neuroscience—a woman studying something that sounds fancy—people assumed that I was studying nursing instead,” Stathopoulos said. “All of my peers in graduate school, who were guys, never got this. That has haunted me forever. I run into fellow faculty at Wittenberg and in the surrounding community shocked to find out that I’m a college professor. It frustrates me that I’m not taken seriously because I’m not old enough or apparently qualified enough to be considered a collegiate professor.”
The professors also provided answers on how they utilize their voices in a way that pushes back or works against the silencing.
“I study female fertility and my students realize that everything that’s been medically tested has been tested on males—researchers only recently realizing there’s actually a difference,” Stathopoulos said. “I’ve always done studies in female animals, which is more work, and only now are people getting with the program.”
“It’s important for me to undo normative knowledge, or at least push folks all the way to the boundary,” Battle said. “In a discussion of inheritance rights, given the fact that black families own homes in a fewer number, as a black woman, why do I give a f*** about that narrative? I had to learn that red is for this block, and blue is for this block, instead of pink is for girls and blue is for boys. You have to think more expansively about representation depending on who the subject is.”
“I will use all the authority I can garner to have an impact on the situation,” Wright said.
The panel also featured a Q & A session to close the evening. Freshman Kelly Darnell discussed how she sometimes wants to give up on pursuing various fields due to society convincing her that she, as a woman, “isn’t smart enough for that,” asking how to mentally process through those feelings.
Another student, sophomore Kassandra Cogswell, similarly said, “sometimes I feel as though when I find myself in a course of study, I feel like I’m not being very professional about it. Do you feel you have to tone down your feelings in general to be a better academic?”
The answers to such questions essentially boiled down to, the words of Battle, “You just gotta be savage about it.” Both Wright and Battle cited finding lifelong lessons and reward from pushing through their theses despite giving up multiple times.
“You have to realize that it’s not you, it’s other people,” Stathopoulos said.