March 8, 2018 was International Women’s Day. This year, many Hobart and William Smith students celebrated by participating in a walkout and rally on the Coxe steps and then marching to a rally in downtown Geneva. The walkout and Coxe steps rally were organized by a group of William Smith students including Hilda Agyekum, Kerry Bartholomae, Madeline Cook, Bex Czajkowski, Loretta Hauslauer, Alex Holmes, Sydney Hummel, Lara Johnson, Megan Mahar, Morgan Neils and Ainsley Rhodes.
This was the second International Women’s Day walkout organized by William Smith students. This year, the purpose of the walkout was to connect Hobart and William Smith students to the Finger Lakes Women’s Strike which was organized by the Geneva Women’s Assembly to bring awareness to women’s work which often goes unnoticed. Following a rally featuring music performed by a band of William Smith students, the participants marched downtown to FLX Live to hear speeches and see art depicting women’s work and make art of their own. The art created for the strike hung in the Geneva Historical Society for the month of March.
When the march reached FLX live, participants were encouraged to speak about why they were striking. Women of a multitude of races, religions, ages, sexualities and gender identities spoke about issues that are of importance to them. As with the Annual Women’s March, many people’s reason for participating went beyond gender equality. Just a few of the reason stated for striking were recognizing the women of the past, better childcare, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental issues, fighting racism and police brutality, encouraging intersectional feminism and many more.
The faculty response to the walkout was generally positive, with much focus given to what HWS can do to improve the experience of female-identifying students. Many professors cancelled classes or ended them early so their students could attend the walkout. Some professors attended the walkout as well. Visiting Professor of Media and Society Iskandar Zulkarnain said he hopes “that the walkout can improve the awareness of the Hobart and William Smith community on the need of building a stronger and more diverse academic community that espouses intersectional solidarity between women of all colors,”.
Though most of the attendees were William Smith students, there were also a number of Hobart students in attendance. The Hobart students that attended had a myriad of reasons for doing so. Some expressed a desire to attend in order to exercise their rights to participate in the democratic process and encourage more activism at HWS. Another said he was there to support the female-identifying people in his life that he felt were “under-appreciated”, another said he was there not only to show support for women but also for all marginalized communities. However, attendance from Hobart could have been more enthusiastic, one Hobart student, Kevin Lin ‘21, said “I feel like there were a lot of guys passing by but no one really stopped and at least stood for a second to listen” and that he wished Hobart students would “show up in bigger numbers” for events like the walkout.
Hobart attendance aside, many of the William Smith students at the walkout expressed great appreciation for the event, either for the inspiration it gave them or the opportunity for their voices to be heard. Sydney Hummel ‘21 said “It was an incredible experience to see women and allies together to celebrate women’s work and witness their dedication to the work that still needs to be done.“ Some William Smith students said they attended in order to send a message specifically to the HWS community. Event organizer, Bex Czajkowski stated that she hoped the event encourages solidarity between William Smith women and sends a message to the HWS institution. In her words, “If there’s anything you get from this..It’s that William Smith women, first-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors kind of realize that we shouldn’t be fighting with one another. Like are there things we don’t agree on? Yes, but at the same time let’s recognize each other and appreciate each other and not try and fit into an institution that has repeatedly ignored us”. Alexandra Devito ‘21 walked out not only because she wanted to support the women at the strike, but also to set an example of activism for her peers. She said “I think [the walkout] should make a statement, especially to those who were maybe nervous to walk out of a class or afraid to stand up for themselves to know that there’s so many people that are here to support you.” International students like Gizem Hussain ‘21 marched not only for women at HWS but for women around the world. Gizem said of the event “While there is a lot of activism for women in Pakistan, it’s usually not to this scale, especially in terms of how freely we marched and how vocal marchers were…We need more of that in my country, and it felt great to be a part of it here at HWS.” Still others came to the walkout because of the positive experience they had at the January 20th Women’s March. Alyssa Capuano ‘21 stated “I went to the Women’s March in Seneca Falls and it was really empowering and I just wanted to come here and celebrate our local Geneva women and the women all around the country and say that we rock it.”
The main theme of the event was women’s work and much work went into making this event a reality. The walkout was organized by William Smith students and the downtown activities were organized by the Geneva Women’s Assembly, on which several of the William Smith organizers serve. One organizer, Banan Otaibi ‘18, described the planning process “The strike was a unique opportunity to unite William Smith women of all ages with women from all over the Finger Lakes. Some organizers focused on reaching out to some awesome William Smith women to set up an all female-identifying band, others put together a team of William Smith students to help with childcare at the strike, others worked on banner-making, and others worked on disseminating fliers and the Waves, a student publication we created and circulated as a call to strike.” The work that all these women put in certainly paid off. The walkout was a well organized and focused example of students taking the initiative and taking action to create change.
This idea of student organized activism is what made the walkout a success. It was an idea that was conceived and brought to fruition by and for students. Jackie Steinman ‘20 summarized this nicely in her thoughts about the walkout. She said “I really think it’s important that we encourage this kind of activism among our generation and I think it’s exactly what people want to give themselves a voice,”. This sentiment was echoed by Czajkowski, who called for more “ground up movement” as a result of the walkout saying “the beautiful thing…about this fourth wave of feminism is that it’s communal and it’s DIY”. In addition to being a vibrant celebration of International Women’s Day, the William Smith walkout was a powerful reminder that when HWS students organize for change they have a vocal community to support them and the power to inspire change.