Women’s History Month Celebrated in New Paltz and Worldwide

Photo Courtesy of SUNY New Paltz

This March marks the 37th Women’s History Month, with March 8 being annointed International Women’s History Day. This holiday that has been around for over a century, created out of the protests and strikes women partook in to fight for their rights. Women’s History Month, however, began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. This holiday began as Women’s History Week, when former President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8 Women’s History Week in February 1980. The first nationwide Women’s History Month celebration happened seven years later.

The female-identifying student population on the SUNY New Paltz campus makes up 63% of the total student body. As a university with a majority female student population, it is only fitting for Women’s History Month to be celebrated across campus. 

Many women have impacted the greater New Paltz community and stand as pillars of inspiration for students. Such women include Sojourner Truth, the namesake of the SUNY New Paltz Library. Truth was an abolitionist during the Civil War and used her voice to advocate for civil rights. Other female namesakes on campus include Mary Gray Deane, the New Paltz Director of Athletics from 1924-59 and coach after whom the softball field is named, also Kitty Augusta Gage, a professor of classical and modern languages who gave her name to Gage Residence Hall, and former theater arts professor Rebecca McKenna, who inspired the title of McKenna Theater. These women and countless others not only lent their names to campus landmarks, but left long-lasting impressions on their respective fields and New Paltz as a whole.

Many organizations across campus act as welcoming spaces for women year-round. Some are dedicated to celebrating diversity and inclusion, such as Realistically Embracing All Ladies, an organization devoted to celebrating all women “regardless of shape, size or background.” Other notable organizations include the African Student Alliance, the Lambda Pi Upsilon Sorority and Women Empowered to Lead, an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) exclusive organization whose public events intend to “empower all those that identify as a womxn.”

Additional clubs act as meeting places for women of similar paths and interests. Some are for those with male-dominated majors, such as the Women in Science and Engineering (W.I.S.E.) organization, which “serves as a support group for girls in or interested in pursuing a career in STEM fields.” Some are for women who share similar hobbies, like the Girl Gains organization, who promote a healthy community and environment for “female-identifying weightlifters.” 

Doing their part in the celebration, The State University of New York (SUNY) system has been celebrating women who are a part of SUNY throughout the month, from spotlighting impactful individuals, to holding numerous virtual panels for women to speak on. The “Celebrating Women in STEM” panel was one of the preliminary events. This featured women such as Dr. Norma Nowak, professor and director of genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Buffalo and Dr. Bonita London, professor and Associate Dean for Research at Stony Brook University. They and others gathered virtually to speak on this panel on March 8. 

Another panel was held on March 20: the “Senior Women Leadership Across SUNY” virtual panel. This meeting was composed of numerous women with experience working in the SUNY system, including SUNY system administration member Cheryl Hamilton, Dr. Carol Kim from the University at Albany, and New Paltz’s very own Shelly Wright, the chief of staff and vice president for communication. Wright, a first-generation college student, serves as a part of the President’s cabinet and heads the University’s communication “with its many internal and external constituencies.”

“Throughout my career at SUNY New Paltz, I have benefitted from inclusion within networks of strong, independent women,” said Wright. “Many relationships that began in my days as a full-time lecturer in what was then called the Department of Communication & Media have continued to the present day in my role in the Office of the President as Chief of Staff and Vice President for Communication.”

On March 29, SUNY New Paltz will hold a Women’s Leadership Summit in Science Hall. The five-hour event will consist of networking opportunities, dinner and a lecture from keynote speaker Lynne Oldham, chief people officer at Stash Financial, who formerly worked at Zoom. Open to students of all genders, this summit spotlights the accomplishments of SUNY New Paltz women alumni for the ninth year running. 

Women make tremendous impacts on all aspects of campus life — from professors, to administration, to Sodexo employees, to residence life and janitorial staff, to the students walking across campus and countless others.

“I’ve been so fortunate to work alongside colleagues – here at New Paltz and in the SUNY system more broadly — who have given me opportunities to grow professionally and who have challenged me to be the best version of myself,” Wright said. 

Celebrating the women in our community is important, but celebrating the women closest to us — grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, etc. — is also necessary, with these relationships possibly being the strongest bonds we have throughout our lives.

“I have admired the courage and leadership of many women over the years, but my mom is my hero,” said Wright. “She grew up poor on an Iowa farm with no indoor plumbing, ventured out on her own to a large Midwest city where she had a long and successful career in roles of increasing responsibility and leadership with the US Postal Service, while simultaneously raising a family.” 

“She’s been a constant support throughout my life, believing in my potential and making personal sacrifices to ensure that both her children had opportunities that she didn’t have, such as attending college and earning a college degree,” Wright further noted. 

Throughout the month of March and in the future, the women in our lives, on our campus and across the globe deserve to be celebrated and appreciated for all they do and the accomplishments they achieve. 

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