From the archives: Gender Symposium unites campus while raising awareness

Adam Infascelli, Staff Writer

This article originally appeared in the March 6, 1997 issue of the Whitman Pioneer. 

All day Saturday, March 1, a range of faculty and students held the second annual Whitman College Gender Symposium. The purpose of the conference was to promote a higher awareness of gender related issues. The symposium, held in Olin, featured a variety of open forums, panel discussions and performances. The topics of the open forums and panel discussions ranged from sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual expression and the inequality of intercollegiate sports to the reading of freshman core from a feminist standpoint.  The symposium also included workshops that were geared towards creative writing with a focus on gender issues. Charlotte Wells, Amy Mihelich and Tauryn Thatcher facilitated the workshops, which met twice during Saturday. In addition, an art display, which featured works by Michael Cheng, Maria Gargiulo, Chula Walker-Griffith, Emilie Press and Romy Ruukel was presented in the student artist hallway in Olin.

The day was divided into three different sessions, each session lasting approximately one and a half hours. During each session, those attending the symposium were given the opportunity to choose between an open forum and a panel discussion. Dana Burgess, professor of classics, lectured to a small audience of about 25 students in Olin 157 with Professors of English Ted Stein and Roberta Davidson. The topic of this panel’s discussion was “reading Whitman’s Freshman Core From a Feminist Standpoint.” The panel discussed various core assigned books including The Aeneid and Candide.

“I was impressed by how much the symposium was motivated and done by the students. It was wonderful how different parts of the college and the community converged on a common purpose,” Burgess said.

Leah Christenson, a senior sociology major and varsity soccer player, lectured in an open forum entitled “The Struggle.” The forum focused on women seeking equality. Christenson, and Carole Skeeters, also a senior soccer player spoke on “inequality in Intercollegiate Sports.”

After the discussion, Skeeters stated, “People seemed interested in our topic. A lot of people asked good questions.” Skeeters and Christenson education their audiences the many blatant inequalities which exist in college level sports today. Christenson  went on to state, “being an athlete, you often get frustrated when two times as many people show up to mean’s games.  I’m not saying that this is the case at Whitman, but at other large division one schools as much as seventy percent of all athletic funding goes to football and basketball programs.”

Gate Ball, who presented “Women at Whitman: Documenting Women Faculty, 1882-1996,” commented, “I thought that it was very interesting. A plethora of different aspects and perspectives were covered. But it should be expanded to a two day event.” When asked whether she had any other criticisms, Ball replied that she felt like the symposium was too feminine-focused. “I would have like to have seen a broader focus on masculinity. Male issues are essential to a gender symposium.”

Most people who attended the symposium were pleased with the event, although, like Ball many felt that one day was not long enough. Press, whose photography was included in the art display, conveyed similar sentiments, “I really enjoyed the symposium, but I’d like to see a full-weekend event that would also include more participants from the Walla Walla community and the Northwest.”