add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );Women's Summit 2024 - BANG.
Ana Maria Cornea / Gavel Media

Women's Summit 2024

Boston College’s Women’s Center hosted its tenth annual Women’s Summit on February 3rd, 2024, welcoming BC community members to a space of connection and inward reflection. The 2024 Summit's theme was advocacy for oneself and others, highlighted frequently by Rachel Denhollander, the keynote speaker. Denhollander is known for being the first woman to speak out publicly against former USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, for his sexual abuse. She helped to build the public case against him, helping over one hundred survivors share their stories and bring justice to Nassar. Now, she is a prominent attorney, advocates against sexual assault, and is raising her family. 

 

Beginning her keynote speech, Denhollander spoke about this summit’s theme: advocacy. She said, “The reality [of advocacy] is that it invokes with it some difficult concepts. Because whenever advocacy is necessary, we’re not just speaking up for something, we are, by definition, also speaking against something.” Hollander then went on to detail her courageous journey where she spoke up against Nassar and USA Gymnastics, who were keeping this abuse quiet. 

 

In the question and answer portion of the keynote, she was asked how to best support survivors to feel comfortable enough to share their stories. She said, “I get asked all the time: how do I help survivors speak up? And in my experience, most survivors are very willing to speak up. They just don’t have the ability to do it. There is no safe place for them to come forward. So the better question is how do we as a community change what needs to be changed so that they can. It's not a willingness question, it’s an ability question.” By setting the precedent of speaking out against Nassar, she was able to build a case and allowed others to be more comfortable sharing their own painful stories. 

 

As part of the Women’s Center, there is a Sexual Assault Network (SANet) at BC to support victims. There is both a SANet Advocate Team, as well as a SANet Care Team, which both feature dedicated members. They have 24/7 phone lines open, as well as weekly drop-in hours to support survivors. Their website also has a wide variety of resources available to students and community members. It is so important that students know these resources exist and are available to them, and the Summit helps to get this information out into the community.

 

After the keynote speech and Q&A, participants of the summit split off into different workshops around Gasson Hall. Six workshops were offered in total, with topics ranging from restorative justice to imposter syndrome to gender in business. I first attended a workshop entitled “Restorative Justice: Building a Compassionate Framework for Healing and Transformation,” led by Melissa Woolsey, an Associate Dean for Student Conduct and Ph.D. student at the Lynch School of Education. This workshop focused on explaining the concepts of restorative justice and provided examples of how it is used in higher education. As an Associate Dean of Conduct, Woolsey frequently implements restorative justice in her work on disciplinary actions. For example, she uses restorative justice circles as an alternative way against the legal disciplinary track, where the victim and perpetrator meet, along with community members to talk about the offense. This workshop was enlightening because it highlighted justice as healing and peaceful, instead of the normal misconception of it being harmful. 

 

Afterward, I went to a workshop called “Gendered Behavior in the Labor Market: Lessons from (and for) Early Career Job Seekers.” This session was run by Alex Opanasets, a current PhD candidate at Boston College. Opanasets ran through many data statistics that spoke about women in the workplace. She spoke about present disparities in self-confidence, and how men over women are more likely to apply to a job they are underqualified for. Furthermore, women are less likely to self-promote than men are, because of this lower confidence in their abilities. Opanasets urged the women in the room to self-promote themselves in the labor and hiring market to close this gap and specifically to help with their future opportunities. 

 

Finally, after a quick snack break with Crumbl Cookies, there was a panel with four BC graduates: Annie Spielberger (‘21), Lili Fleming (‘23, ‘27), Mela Villa Gomez (‘20), and Anne Celestin (‘23). They spoke about several topics about post-grad life, including jobs, friendships, and the challenges they faced. They all had different paths, but there were similarities between them. Some went into teaching jobs after graduating, volunteering for Teach for America or similar organizations, or teaching locally in Boston. They spoke about the challenges of these first teaching jobs, but that they were rewarding and helped catapult them to where they are now. When asked about activities or opportunities they wish they did at BC, many discussed wishing they did APPA or Arrupe, different service trips through Campus Ministry, which work to advocate for and help global communities, following the summit’s central theme of advocacy. 

 

The Women’s Summit is the most important annual event led by the Women’s Center, allowing community members to leave their busy lives to think about their values. Especially for current undergraduate students, hearing about what BC students are doing post-graduate can illuminate new career paths for them. The workshops present a great opportunity to learn new life skills, like restorative justice practices or learning the importance of advocating for yourself in the workplace. Leaving the Summit, I felt inspired to research further into what I learned in the workshops and felt more connected knowing there is a community of supportive women here at BC.

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Communication major, avid romcom watcher, and Whole Foods sandwich enthusiast.

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