How She Made U.Va.’s Campus HerCampus

November 30, 2015

her campus uva

Story by Sammy Scheman

            Her-Campus is an online publication for college women, known predominantly for witty articles about fashion, health, and friendship. However, the organization has been trying to incorporate a new core value, women’s empowerment, into their articles. Their event “How She Made U.Va’s Campus HerCampus” was a kick-start for their new focus on this theme. I have always struggled with understanding the meaning of “women’s empowerment.” It has always seemed like more of a buzz phrase that I was unsure of how to put into action. However, after listening to Emily McDuff, Alex Pinkleton, and Sherri Moore speak with at the event, I feel ready to create my own meaning of the phrase of “women’s empowerment,” as these three accomplished women have.

Emily McDuff, a fourth year double major in civil engineering and French, related her personal story to the struggle of women throughout history at U.Va. Emily discussed the first female student, Caroline Preston Davis, who came to U.Va. in 1892, and was not allowed to attend lectures. If Caroline passed her final exams, she was promised a certificate rather than a diploma. By 1970, when the first class of women was accepted to U.Va., every other school of U.Va.’s caliber had already been accepting women into their university. Throughout this historical pretext, Emily wove in stories about herself, and how history has shaped her. Her experience as a minority in the Engineering School, where boys have slipped her their number while passing her the homework, taught her the importance of being strong for future pioneering women, just as her mentors persevered for her. She explained that we are at this university to find ourselves as individuals, citing the first class of U.Va. women who were constantly asked to give the “woman’s perspective” of U.Va., rather than the perspective of an individual U.Va. student. It is time to recognize the individual passions and experiences of the men and women at U.Va.

Alex Pinkleton, a fourth year student and president of One Less, discussed sexual assault advocacy. She explained her journey to advocacy, beginning as a conservative high school student who found women’s rights irrelevant and would not have been insulted to be called a member of the Tea Party. Alex came to college with no experience with boys or alcohol, and was confronted with this new world all at once. She became a survivor of sexual assault the fall of her second year and then joined One Less, never foreseeing that this organization would become the most influential part of her life. During the Rolling Stone craze, Alex learned a lot about advocacy and herself. Alex recalls feeling like an expert as the movement against sexual assault gained momentum, especially in contrast to those who were suggesting that everyone should wear a body camera when they go out in order to prevent rape. Although the scandal led to her being dubbed a “lying, liberal, crazy feminist,” Alex realized that through being an advocate, she was able to fight for future generations of women and allow herself to cope with her own trauma.

Sherri Moore, a U.Va. alumni and Commercial Law professor, was the last to share her story. Professor Moore is an inspirational speaker, and a fantastic professor. She began by describing the women of U.Va. as miraculous. She recalled her experiences as far back as third grade, when women were finally allowed into the University. Her father was angry, insisting she was going to attend an all-girls school, but she was determined. Her brothers told her that she could never attain her dream job of being a lawyer because she was a girl. Professor Moore learned from a young age that being a girl made her different. As she grew up, she realized that this was not a bad thing. Although she had been told time and again that her opportunities in life were limited because of her gender, she was not dissuaded. She found great pride in being a woman and refused to believe that her gender trumped her capabilities. Professor Moore warns that it is not easy to be the one who shapes the path for women in the future, but recognizes that without this work and these sacrifices, the miraculous women here at U.Va. would never have had their chance to shine. Pay it forward. Every generation can help the next.

Through this event, I learned how three inspirational women have empowered themselves to make real changes and progress for future generations. Emily McDuff exemplified the importance of perseverance and having faith in yourself, despite discouraging stereotypes and setbacks. Alex Pinkleton showed the power of believing in a movement, even through difficult times, and the way this dedication can help you to help others and simultaneously find yourself. Sherri Moore demonstrated the realm of self-confidence, as it helped her pursue her dreams despite the challenges of the times and the lack of support even within her own family. The changes are tangible and important, and they are because of and contribute to women’s empowerment.

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