Members of the Boston College community braved the freezing weather on February 4th to attend the Women Center’s annual Women’s Summit, held in Gasson and Fulton Hall. The summit is the largest event hosted by the Women’s Center each year, drawing people from all backgrounds who are curious to expand their perspectives on gender and reflect on their own experiences. This was the first summit held in person since February 2020, allowing attendees to finally foster a supportive community face-to-face and interact with women from BC and its wider community.
The summit began with a keynote address given by Shereen Marisol Meraji, the founding co-host and producer of National Public Radio’s critically acclaimed podcast, Code Switch. The podcast is best known for discussing culture, race, and identity in society through humor and storytelling. The stories covered in the podcast shed light on underrepresented voices from across the nation, advocating for more discussion on important racial and cultural issues.
Maimouna Sarr (‘23), a current BC senior involved at the Women’s Center, said Meraji was an important figure for the summit to emphasize different ways of being an activist. She said, “When you think of activism, you think of someone standing up on a podium, being loud and vocal about what they have to say. But I think activism can manifest itself in different ways. You could be an activist for your writing or, like Sheeran, journalism. [...] Recognizing that you can find your own individual empowerment in different ways is something that really gravitated us towards [Meraji].” One of the goals of the summit was to aid participants in all stages of their empowerment journeys, and Meraji’s inspirational words helped provide a foundation for many.
Meraji is now a professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in Northern California, where she was born and raised. She has Puerto Rican and Iranian heritage, and in her keynote, she reflected on growing up as mixed race through personal stories about her family. She spoke admiringly about her father, grandfather, and aunts, who were her greatest role models. Meraji reflected that these relationships primed her for her activist work on Code Switch and other projects, where she aims to tell untold stories and connect communities. “I’m not an expert [on storytelling], I’m just allowing myself to be vulnerable,” she said. Her deeply touching and emotional speech set the tone of vulnerability and reflection for the remainder of the summit and its workshops.
The keynote was followed by two small group workshops, allowing participants to learn more about particular topics. Eleven workshops were offered, covering a range of themes including journalism, anatomy, and self-love. The full list of workshops can be found here. One workshop, entitled “How to Figure Out Your Life When You Barely Know What’s Going On,” was led by a BC Alumna, Amaka Nnaeto (‘20). Nnaeto now lives in New York City, where she works in the financial technology business at BlackRock. She discussed life as a post-college graduate and her journey of self-growth and self-care, which were both themes discussed continuously throughout the summit. Another workshop was led by two more BC alums: Virginia Mahoney (‘20, ’21) and Cassidy Gallegos (’16, ‘21), who now both work at the Center for Student Wellness. The workshop, called “Address the Elephant in the Room: Authenticity and Vulnerability at BC,” consisted of a self-reflection exercise about participants’ time at BC and their mental health.
Following this pattern, the majority of the workshop leaders were Boston College alumni, which speaks to the strength of the BC network within the Women’s Center. Sarr, who was on the summit’s outreach team, said that choice from the Women’s Center planning team was extremely conscious: “We were intentional about people we felt brought so much to the BC community that we wanted to bring them back [to lead workshops].”
Many workshops were catered specifically towards BC students, such as reflecting on their time at BC, but others were for the broader community. The Women’s Summit was open to the public and hosted members of the BC community, including students and faculty, as well as women from Newton and the greater Boston area. Sarr also emphasized the importance of having participants of all ages to bring more perspective to the event, as well as connect communities throughout generations. “I think it’s a testament to the power of community and wanting to bring in those different voices. There’s something to be said about people from the outside community wanting to take away something from the day, so I feel like it just broadens people’s perspectives. [...] If I’m specifically in a workshop with a woman that may or may not be my age or may not go to BC, I’m able to connect with her in a different way, which I think is really powerful.”
Two panels were offered after the workshops called: “Navigating Life After Graduation” and “Feminism & Spirituality,” both led by members of the BC community. One of the missions of the summit was to “encourage all attendees to explore new and challenging perspectives, formulate new goals, and utilize the summit as a launching pad for future action,” and these panels certainly delivered on that goal of reflection and connection. The first discussed finding yourself post-grad, while “Feminism & Spirituality” shared stories of women navigating their personal and professional lives through their faith.
Sun streamed through the stained-glass windows in Gasson Hall’s event space as a perfect backdrop for the closing remarks. The summit was closed out by spoken word poetry from Emme Mackenzie (‘25), as well as a powerful dance performance from BC’s all-female step team, Females Incorporating Sisterhood Through Step (FISTS). The day finished with an artisan fair from student designers in Gasson Commons.
Although the summit is the largest event hosted by the Women’s Center, there are many other important events throughout the year. The end of March brings CARE Week, a campaign week that focuses on rape education and helping survivors. Applications for the Women’s Center will also open in March, where students can get involved in the Women’s Center in a variety of ways. To find out more and stay updated on events, visit the Women’s Center website and subscribe to their newsletter.