Furman opened Women’s History Month on March 1 with a panel discussion featuring six women faculty members at Hartness Pavilion.
Representing a diverse range of academic disciplines, years at Furman and life experiences, the faculty members provided their perspectives on the theme for this year’s Women’s History Month – “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” – and discussed how that theme connects to their experiences as women in higher education.
The event was organized by Savita Nair, professor of history and Asian studies and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Furman. Nair crafted the event’s questions, which elicited profound and personal responses from the panel. The group included Furman President Elizabeth Davis, Janet Kwami, associate professor of communication studies, Karen Buchmueller, associate professor of chemistry, Sarah Frick, professor of mathematics, Kelsey Hample, assistant professor of economics, and Eunice Kim, assistant professor of classics.
The first question paved the way for the rich discussion that followed: “Given the research on the hidden work and care labor of women in academia, now coupled with the growing body of international literature analyzing the effects of the pandemic on academic labor and, specifically, on gender inequalities in academia, what are your thoughts on this year’s theme?”
The irony was apparent: the theme of a month intended to recognize and honor women actually reaffirmed the expectation that women should shoulder additional responsibilities – responsibilities that often go unrecognized and unpaid. Several panelists pointed out that on college campuses, women faculty members are sought out by students for mental and emotional support, relationship advice, and other forms of support and connection more often than their male colleagues.
As a result, Nair said, women faculty sometimes must emphasize their essential role, that, “I am your professor, not your mom.”
The burden of providing healing and promoting hope should not just fall on women, said Frick. “That comes at a cost personally and professionally,” she said. “We (men and women) should all be providing healing and promoting hope.”
At the same time, each of the panelists acknowledged how important finding and developing relationships with trusted mentors has been to them as part of a larger discussion about “how has gender shaped your career?”
Some of the panelists found mentor support in a cohort of fellow female graduate students. For others, it was finding the right graduate advisor. For Davis, during her time as president of Furman, it has been a local businesswoman.
Indeed, in personal and important ways, the right mentor will provide hope and help heal the same women who do that for others, said Buchmueller.
“Find the mentor or mentors who can help you,” she said. “You don’t have to do it all alone when the hard times inevitably come.”