March is Women’s History Month. The Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) asked students, faculty and staff around campus to talk about the importance of this month, in their own words, through the lenses of their identities and experiences.
by Kianna Notermann
Meet Wendy Weimerskirch Plager. Wendy is the Education Program Manager in the Office for Equity & Diversity. She studied Sociology at UW – Eau Claire before completing her masters in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development here at the U of M. Wendy also spent two years in Rwanda working with a youth leadership development and education nonprofit, and her favorite part was teaching about gender and sexual health. She is probably Janelle Monáe’s biggest fan. Here is her story:
“When thinking about Women’s History Month and being a feminist in general, I am drawn to celebrating the power for us as women to reclaim the stories that have been hidden from history. It’s not rewriting history, it’s seeing the things that have always been there, but just haven’t been at the forefront.
In late February, I went to the Margot Lee Shetterly lecture and she discussed her book Hidden Figures. One thing that she was talking about was, with her lecture being during Black History Month and the following month being Women’s History Month, is that sometimes race and gender get segmented into different categories, even though it’s crucial to be talking about them together. As a woman, women’s issues are not just things like equal pay, as maybe they were thought of historically. To me, I feel that this is becoming more a part of our national discourse, for example in talking about the Women’s March and things like that. People had criticized it, saying if this [Women’s] March is only about these issues, we need to broaden it. I think about how women’s rights and women’s history is inextricably tied-up with Black history, Black Lives Matter, disability rights, LGBT rights; all of these things need to be bound together. I had a friend ask me recently, ‘Why is feminism so important to you?’ For me, feminism is freedom. It’s freedom for me as a woman to fully express myself, to have the job I want to have, get an advanced degree, and have a partner who respects me. In addition, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So if feminism means freedom, it has to mean freedom for all people. I am not truly free if my immigrant, black, Muslim, or lesbian sisters are not also free. As feminists, we need to be working for freedom for everyone.
I feel extraordinarily lucky to have my job be as an educator and a facilitator for people to learn about social justice issues, like feminism, and teach others that liberation is possible. The reason that I am here in this role right now is because, four years ago, when I started working at the U, I was in the Equity and Diversity Certificate Program and it was transformational for me. [The workshops] are not, in my mind, simply a place to go and absorb knowledge then leave. It’s also a great place to build relationships with people. You can network with other people around the U and find allies that will hold you accountable and be there for support when things get tough. It’s an incredible education opportunity for you as an individual, and also a great opportunity to build community that people should take advantage of. If you have a chance, check out the [Equity and Diversity] Certificate Program. It’s great!
I love the quote by Emma Goldman: ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.’ Social justice work does not always have to be heavy or serious. Take some time this month to check out some powerful women artists like Janelle Monáe. She is a musician who also was in two of the best movies of the year, Moonlight and Hidden Figures. We need more leaders in our world like her that are breaking down stereotypes of what it means to be a woman and pursuing their passions while having a lot of fun. I am always looking to add to my music playlist of incredible women, so if you have suggestions for me, comment on this post!”
[Header Image Credit: Kianna Notermann, 2017]