"It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view."
– From “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” by Kenneth Edward Untener, quoted during this year’s Women’s Summit.
In an online format never before encountered, Boston College students, alumni, and guests met February 6 for the seventh annual Boston College Women’s Summit.
This year's keynote speakers were author and activist Chanel Miller and activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Patrisse Cullors. These speakers embodied the Women’s Summit’s goal to reveal the intersection between Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo Movement. Along with these main speakers, the Women’s Summit invited a number of alumni and faculty to run workshops.
The event kicked off with an interview with Chanel Miller. She started off by reading a moving excerpt from her book, Know My Name. The book, released in 2019, marked the first time Miller’s name was released to the public as a survivor of a highly publicized sexual assault by Brock Turner on Stanford University’s campus. This reading led into a conversation about anonymity. Miller described the different layers of anonymity she was forced to navigate as her case unfolded. How and when she moved within these layers was directly tied to self-care. She assured her audience that self-care and healing are not linear but instead continuous, cyclical battles in the quest for self-preservation.
When asked about the #MeToo movement broadly, Miller expressed disappointment that it has taken so many similar stories for the movement to gain real traction. She described the experience of coming forward as stepping in line with all the other powerful women who have also come forward. She also pointed out that #MeToo and BLM have major convergences. She said that her assailant, a white man, never had to say that his life or his voice mattered—he was given the luxury of having the opportunity to explain himself. Miller encouraged the audience to push for spaces in which marginalized voices can be heard and uplifted.
At the end of her talk, she implored her listeners to “Be on your own side”—if everyone is against you, make sure that you are not with them. This piece of advice from Miller is reminiscent of a quote from writer Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” During times such as the ones we are facing, self-care is essential to progressing forward. This gentle reminder by Miller was filled with sincerity and action.
After Miller’s tender and earnest conversation, the workshop portion of the event began. When reserving tickets, Women’s Summit attendees chose two workshops to participate in. The workshops were run by BC alumni or staff speaking on topics ranging from starting your own business to learning to live as your most authentic self. These workshops provided a chance for guests to share their stories and give advice to current BC students.
Nwamaka Nnaeto, MCAS ’20, has had the unique opportunity to be part of the Women's Summit both as a student and as a guest speaker. As a guest speaker this year, she reflected on her experience during all the pandemic and Zoom weirdness: “And I just thought, how can I present this to them for a good amount of time in a way that's engaging, funny, relatable, and honest?”
Nnaeto’s workshop, titled “Prepping for Post Grad: A Lesson in Humility,” outlined her expectations for life after BC and some of the rude awakenings she got. While tackling a topic that evokes anxiety for many, she lightheartedly and gracefully advised the workshop to get comfortable with being humble, respecting various relationships for what they are, and being sure to have a concept of yourself—separate from school and work.
Each workshop was an intimate space that felt like a personal conversation with the guest speaker. With about an hour of shining faces in small squares and uplifting conversations with the guest speaker, the workshops were a space to grow and leave with something impactful.
After the workshops and a quick lunch break, the event moved on to the final speaker, Patrisse Cullors. This conversation with Cullors was conducted by Regine Michelle Jean-Charles, a BC professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies department. Cullors was firm, and she spoke with a voice of clarity charged with power.
Cullors, a self-proclaimed “abolitionist evangelist,” has been doing activist work since the age of 16. She recounted her years as a dancer, an environmental activist, and eventually an advocate against school police before and during BLM. She encouraged her listeners to be abolitionists in everything they do and reminded them to show up for one another regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race. She discussed how to apply this abolitionist philosophy to campus life, and how it applies to the BC community and campus police. This conversation was powerful, and holds even more meaning as the events occurring on the women's Multicultural Learning Experience floor in Xavier Hall come to light.
During this interview, Professor Jean-Charles read questions from students to Cullors. A major question was in regards to how BLM intersects with womanhood and feminism. She emphasized the importance of intersectional activism and asked listeners to “tell the story that black women started this movement and tell the story that black women keep it going.”
Interviewer concluded this conversation by asking Cullors: “What gives you hope?”
She replied, “Young leaders.”
The event ended with the reading of a prayer by a Jesuit priest that reminds us, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”
This year’s Women’s Summit, although presented in a different format, succeeded in bringing BC students together to learn, reflect, and create community.