Dinner celebrates women
Emily McConville | Thursday, March 27, 2014
Shades of Ebony held its second annual Celebration of Women Dinner, the culminating event of Women’s Week, on Thursday night in McKenna Hall. The event focused on the Women’s History Month theme “Character, Courage and Commitment” and featured three speakers and small-group discussions.
The first speaker, freshman Grace Watkins, discussed her experience of sexual assault and subsequent activism, including her participation in the TEDx conference in January.
“In my interactions with my peers following the [TED] conference, I received a wide range of reactions,” Watkins said. “Many of them were positive.
“Unfortunately, however, some comments were wildly misinformed and insensitive, and it was in those reactions that I needed to remind myself of people’s humanity and my own humanity.”
The second speaker was Frances Shavers, University President Fr. John Jenkins’s former chief of staff who resigned after debilitating pain seizures caused by trigeminal neuralgia prevented her from working. Shavers spoke about her disease, various attempts at treatment, consideration of suicide and courage in the face of pain and adversity.
“Something will happen in your life, where you will be tested to be courageous,” Shavers said. “Where moving forward collides with running away, where our faith will meet our uncertainty, where our hope will meet our despondency, where our self-confidence will meet our self-despair.
“On that bridge we have to respond. You have to respond. You must choose courage … to override our own internal doubts – perhaps the most damning – our own voice that says, I can’t.”
The third speaker was Katie Washington, the first black valedictorian of Notre Dame who did medical research and service until her graduation in 2010 before entering a combined MD/PhD program at Johns Hopkins University. Washington referenced her own academic, professional and personal experiences in her talk.
“Here’s my perspective: whatever you should commit to requires conscious reflection and self-examination,” Washington said. “Our commitment should come from a place of self-love.
“It should also provide a love for others, especially those who appear unlovable by some criteria or certain standards. Ultimately the commitments that you choose are yours and yours alone.”
The dinner was organized by Shades of Ebony and the Gender Relations Center and funded by a variety of clubs, residence halls, alumni clubs and individual alumnae.
Sophomore Chizo Ekechukwu, diversity council representative and historian for Shades of Ebony, said the speakers exceeded her expectations.
“Frances – I was in tears, and Katie is my inspiration because I want to be a doctor, so her being the first black valedictorian and her doing an MD/PhD program is something I aspire to do,” Ekechukwu said. “Grace, telling her story was so brave and courageous. The theme of character, courage and commitment was embodied throughout this whole dinner.”
Christine Caron Gebhardt, director of the Gender Relations Center, said the event organizers were pleased with the outcome.
“I think the speakers were wonderful in capturing what we were hoping for tonight, with the different ways in which women and men both past and present help shape the future,” Gebhardt said. “We had a very engaging discussion at our table, and other folks were really engaged.
“Each year we’re hoping to build, and I think it’s becoming stronger. And it’s encouraging that our campus is really uplifting women.”