“Onward and Upward” panel discusses women in higher education

Onward and upward poster : event was created by a living learning community

Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, Staff Writer 
Photo courtesy Insignis & Friends LLC

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, the Insignis & Friends Living Learning Community presented an event titled “Onward and Upward: A Panel on Women in Higher Education.” Aquinas professors Dr. Rebecca Humphrey, Sister Justine Kane, PhD., and Dr. Nkechy Ezeh were present to discuss their experiences in academia.

The panel began with questions about the professors’ early experiences and influences in education, many of whom were female. The speakers all described a network of support that empowered them to pursue their different paths, despite social limitations that arose.

Discussion then turned to what these difficulties of working in academia actually are for women. Sr. Kane, PhD, mentioned that her research in education fell outside the typical format, was seen as a “soft” science and was undervalued by her colleagues.

“It is difficult to work in an environment where you don’t feel supported,” Sr. Kane, PhD said, an experience that the other panelists echoed. Dr. Humphrey described episodes of microaggressions about her gender and age, and being treated as though she does not deserve her position. Dr. Ezeh added that as an immigrant from Nigeria, she is often seen as unintelligent and has to prove herself. ”I am not given the benefit of the doubt,” Dr. Ezeh said. However, these difficulties may in fact make female presence more vital.

When asked about the importance of being women in higher education, all three agreed that it mattered “because we exist.” They clarified that women did not have to bring something different to the table to deserve a place. Nor do they have to be there if they do not feel called. Rather, “women need to be added back into history” and given the option to participate.

How can this equality in academia be achieved? The panelists urged the audience to trust their voices, take advantage of opportunities and think not in limitations but in possibilities. The event concluded with a question-and-answer panel for participants to learn more about the panelists’ stories and paths into higher education.

Elizabeth Schoof of the Insignis & Friends LLC says that while planning the group knew that they wanted to focus on academic success and leadership. “We decided to focus Onward and Upward on the challenges women face achieving success because it’s important to recognize how far we have come over the years,” she says of the event, “but it’s also important to recognize how far we still have to go.”

The group felt that the process of planning the event involved each student’s strengths, something important in working towards higher education. “The experience really helped to solidify a sense of support within the room. Everyone faces different struggles, but being able to rely on a group of strong women to support you is incredibly encouraging,” Schoof adds.

Dr. Ezeh felt that the panel contributed to the community in more than an academic sense: “We are a learning community, and learning does not have to happen always in the classroom,” she says. “We need to have ALL kinds of learning happening at AQ,” especially the kind that educates the whole self.


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