WAGE Fellows Foster Female Leadership
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 02:09
In an attempt to offset what they perceive to be an “old boys’ club” mentality on campus, members of the Women Advancing Gender Equity Fellowship hope to focus campus attention on gender issues.
Led by Women’s Center director Laura Kovach, WAGE consists of female leaders who advocate for the empowerment of women in the Georgetown community.
The 10 founding members established WAGE in 2008 after recognizing an unequal correlation between gender and the opportunities at Georgetown.
“The founding members felt that there was an ‘old boys’ ’ network at Georgetown and that some of the male leaders on campus had close connections with the Jesuits and would be invited to the Jesuit residence,” Brittanie Leibold (COL ’13), a second-year WAGE fellow and undergraduate assistant at the Women’s Center, said. “Women leaders weren’t allowed those same opportunities. WAGE just wanted to create a space for that.”
Since its founding, WAGE has seen an annual increase in applicants and now includes 15 fellows, nine of whom are new this semester. Students can apply for the fellowship in their sophomore and junior years.
“The reason I looked to WAGE was because I was involved in women’s issues off campus, but there weren’t really places to have those discussions on campus. And that was odd to me,” Sophia Boyer (COL ’14), a new WAGE fellow, said.
The group currently meets in the Women’s Center for one hour a week to listen to female speakers, read newspaper articles and discuss gender issues.
“We talk about everything related to gender,” Leibold said.
WAGE emphasizes the importance of fostering strong female leaders on campus.
Boyer has not always considered herself a women’s leader.
“The conversations [of gender] weren’t on my mind, which I think is problematic,” Boyer said. “I don’t know why I wasn’t conscious of myself being a woman leader, but that was the environment [at Georgetown].”
WAGE matches new fellows with mentors — alumni who can offer both professional and personal advice about transitioning into the working world.
Leibold said she looks up to former WAGE Fellow Soraya Chemaly (COL ’88), a feminism and gender writer for the The Huffington Post.
“[Chemaly] talked about the need for women to support each other and not look at each other as competition — the ‘cat-fight’ mentality,” Leibold said, citing the statistic that one woman has a position of power for every 10 male leaders. “If there were more than one token woman at the top, we would be pulling each other up rather than making it a competition.”
WAGE emphasizes the importance of establishing an alliance between men and women. The group holds an annual Women’s Leadership Panel, which invites all members of the community to join the gender discussion.
“Last year we even had [Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J.] up there with three women,” Leibold said.
With O’Brien’s addition to the panel, WAGE seemed to have breeched the “old boys” barrier of previous years
“I enthusiastically support the Women’s Center as Laura Kovach and her team cultivate women for leadership on our campus and beyond,” O’Brien wrote in an email. “[The Jesuits] are proud of the many ways that women from different faith traditions lead our ministries.”
However, WAGE Fellow Melissa McClure (COL ’13) said she still notices a gender barrier when she attempts to start conversations with her classmates.
“I was in International Law and asked, since [the professor] was on the panel, if I could make an announcement,” McClure wrote in an email. “The moment I said ‘women’ in ‘Annual Women’s Leadership Forum’ every guy who had been watching me turned their heads as if it did not apply to them. I was incredibly frustrated and said, ‘For all you guys who just put your heads down, try to take an interest in the other half of the population.’”
WAGE hopes that the recent growth in applicants and future events will increase student awareness of gender issues on campus.
“I think the more that other groups can bring multiple interests to one table and have in common, [the more] they care about women’s leadership. ... It will benefit WAGE,” Boyer said.