South Bay Womyn’s Conference raises awareness, unity and empowerment at SJSU by Nina Tabios
Zephira Derblich-Milea headed a workshop called Expect Respect: A Conversation on Relationships, at the South Bay Womyn’s Conference on Saturday. Photo by Nina Tabios / Spartan Daily
The SJSU Women’s Resource Center hosted the South Bay Womyn’s Conference on Saturday, part of a series of workshops to discuss various realms of women’s issues including education, abuse, image and revolution.
Co-founders Samantha Pedrosa and Samantha Plescia of SJSU’s Women’s Resource Center partnered with Womyn on Womyn’s Issues, LGBT Resource Center, MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center and the Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center to organize the conference.
Yan Yin Choy, co-coordinator of the event and Associated Students director of student rights and responsibilities, said that the idea of the conference was largely due to the fact that SJSU had yet to host such a venue in which to have these types of discussions.
“We wanted to create a space in which we can have a dialogue sharing our stories and legacies,” said Choy, a senior environmental studies major. “But we also wanted a focus on inter-sectionalities and talking about how all of these different issues of oppression or privilege or empowerment and how they all connect to each other.”
The workshops were broken into three, hour-long sessions, with five different workshops offered in each session, with each emphasizing unity — the conference’s overall theme.
Covering issues from lack of representation of women in education to the body image and gender expression, the workshops allowed both male and female attendees to share their stories and perspectives openly.
“We made it a point to create a lot of inter-sectionalities, like ability, LGBT issues, ethnic issues, youth, age, things like that,” said Pedrosa, a senior philosophy major. “Because we wanted to say that this isn’t just about women. I’m sure in some way a male is identified in one of these other forms that is brought up in the subject.
“It was about egalitarianism, being united through all.”
One workshop, titled “Redefining Masculinity,” addressed breaking down the barrier of gender roles and societal conditioning between men and women so both genders can unite in creating an equal society.
“In a way it’s not just a woman’s issue, it’s an ‘us’ issue,” Pedrosa said. “That needs to be addressed and other people need to see the other perspective in order to understand.”
Another workshop, presented by Maribel Martinez, a Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center staff member, featured a “rehearsal for the revolution,” and discussed what it means to live through a revolution and what it means to be a part of a revolution.
“Revolution is on the forefront of our society,” Choy said in the discussion.
Prior to the workshops, keynote speaker Erika Montgomery of Three Girls Media and Marketing, a public relations agency specializing in working with small businesses, spoke to the audience on how she became successful despite many odds against her.
“There is no reason I should have turned out successful today,” she said. “I probably should’ve been the least likely person to be standing up here and speaking with you today.”
Montgomery’s presentation told a story about a woman overcoming various obstacles using approaches that she encouraged the audience to adopt.
“Don’t be afraid to go for it, ask for help, reinvent yourself and exist in the present,” Montgomery said.
The conference also featured a panel of four women from different fields of social justice, led by Martinez, to share their stories of their trials and tribulations as women leaders in their community.
Irene McCalphin, Elizabeth Sarmiento, Diane Solomon and Moina Shaiq spoke about their backgrounds and, like Montgomery, explained how they were able to overcome their obstacles and become successful women in their respective fields.
Junior English major Emily Wood attended the conference for the “benefits of being with other women and connecting with the community,” but to also walk away with greater social awareness.
“I’m interested in improving my station as a woman,” Wood said.
The combination of workshops, panel and speakers not only emphasized empowerment to attendees, but also encouraged the idea that simply being a woman is an empowering identity by itself.
“It raises awareness about women and women’s issues because it seems like there’s this nature of some females on campus that aren’t exactly secure with the fact that they are a woman,” Pedrosa said. “I feel like it’s an issue of being secure with oneself and being in solidarity with other women and maybe not everyone feels that way.”
Choy hopes that the conference will become an annual event and continue to unite all people through sharing stories and experiences.
“I’m hoping for it to become something bigger,” she said. “Hopefully this becomes a tradition that continues to partner students with community members to bring people together.”