The annual OWN IT Summit, aimed at empowering and inspiring women personally and professionally, brought over 100 speakers to Georgetown’s campus this weekend to discuss the role of women in politics as well as sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

This year’s summit aimed to address the #MeToo movement, a hashtag campaign that started in 2017 to share the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment for women in the workplace. The event focused on what the movement means for women entering the workplace and encouraging young women to participate in politics, according to OWN IT 2018 Director of Communications Amanda Shepherd (SFS ’18).

Created in 2014 by Helen Brosnan (COL ’16) and Kendall Ciesemier (COL ’15), the summit is designed to promote intersectional activism, female empowerment and leadership for young women on campus. The event’s founders created OWN IT to address the lack of female leadership in large businesses, according to the event’s information page.

RICHARD SCHOFIELD/THE HOYA Poet and author Cleo Wade delivered the keynote speech at the 2018 OWN IT Summit and received the 2018 OWN IT Award.

The event featured three panel discussions and two breakout sessions, with each speaker sharing their experiences with gender discrimination, sexual misconduct and activism. Speakers included Maryland gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah, CNN commentator and liberal activist Sally Kohn, press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign Symone Sanders, American gymnast Mattie Larson, poet Cleo Wade and journalist Amy Brittain.

Deborah Canty (CAS ’78), the first female president of the Georgetown University Student Association, opened the event with a message of motivation as she urged women to continue pursuing leadership positions. Canty said that despite the strength of the #MeToo movement, she hopes that it will continue to push for female empowerment to dismantle a white, male-dominated system.

“The unfortunate truth is that most power is still in the hands of white men, and women are still held to a double standard,” Canty said. “I hope your contributions and your efforts just like so many women before you will result in changing this.”

Canty said it is important that young women speak up and ignore those who might try to silence their voices.

“There are those in society who would like us, women, to be smaller, quieter, diminished,” Canty said. “My advice to you is to be as large as you wish to be.”

OWN IT was originally scheduled for Saturday, March 24. However, members of the organizing team said they decided to move the event to Sunday in a show of solidarity with the March for Our Lives, a student-led rally to protest gun violence in the United States.

Co-Chair of OWN IT Sarah Clements (COL ’18) addressed the summit’s solidarity with the March for Our Lives protest during her opening statement.

“We stand in solidarity with the students in Parkland, Fla., for reminding our generation and every generation of the urgency of this very moment to make change, break down barriers, find solutions and speak out even when it feels impossible,” Clements said. “These are OWN IT values too, and we hope to continue to build on the energy from yesterday’s events.”

Shepherd said that the speakers and vendors were both understanding and accommodating of the date change.

“It was really heartwarming to see how all of our speakers and vendors and all of that were really understanding of the change and really were on board and understood why we made that difficult decision,” Shepherd said.

Two awards were also presented at the summit. The Gwendolyn Mikell Award for Women’s Empowerment, a collaborative effort between the Georgetown Social Innovation and Public Service Fund, a student-run fund for social impact projects, and OWN IT, granted $500 to Rachel Mucha (SFS ’18) for her nonprofit work in India, while poet and author Cleo Wade received the OWN IT Summit Award, also known as the Trailblazer Award, for her powerful and inclusive poetry. Wade was the keynote speaker of the summit, and she discussed her new book “Heart Talk” with OWN IT co-founder Helen Brosnan.

Wade said that she intended her book to help her connect with her audience and overcome pain.

“I really wanted to write something, create something so that I could have a vehicle to get in the room with my audience to really realize the healing that we all needed,” Wade said.

Wade said she wrote her book as an inclusive tool for healing and strived to create a piece of art that would appeal to many different people.

“When I was writing the book, I really did think about it being this really foundational tool, and in that I wanted to make sure that there were a lot of different entry points for people’s healing,” she said.

Wade said that this quest for inclusivity reflects the way that women should try to lead: by empowering voices that are not often as celebrated to speak out.

“Women don’t lead so that their voices can be heard,” Wade said. “We lead so that the voices that aren’t being heard can be heard.”

OWN IT Co-Chair Sienna Mori (COL ’18) said that the OWN IT summit is a step in contributing to the effort to empower women, strengthen female voices and fight gender discrimination in society as a whole.

“The conversations that we have in this room will crack the glass ceiling just a little bit more and bring us just a little further in our fight for equity, access and inclusion,” Mori said.

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