Club stresses sisterhood, women’s issues
Emily McConville | Monday, September 1, 2014
A new club aims to create a space for women in the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College communities to discuss issues in daily college life and beyond.
Senior Alison Leddy said she started the club, Notre Dames, after seeing a need to solidify the sisterhood between both campuses and foster a dialogue across students’ normal social groups.
“I think sometimes in college it’s easy to stick to your comfort zone and have your dorm friends and have your study buddies and have that be it … I think we have a lot of really great girls on campus,” Leddy said. “In order to meet those girls, I wanted to be able to facilitate those types of discussions and make those connections, or at least create a space where it would be easy to make those connections.”
Leddy said starting Sept. 9, Notre Dames will have weekly two-hour meetings where students can drop in at any time and discuss current events, popular culture and issues relating to women both in an out of college.
“This acts as a safe space for people to talk and maybe think a little bit more critically about … the dorm party scene, or that song that plays on the radio, or the TV show they just watched, or the role of women in their lives and their female role models and that sort of thing,” she said. “They can have those conversations, and they can meet other women on campus and have a little bit more solidarity with women on campus.”
Leddy said the club will also have social events and bring in female alumni to illustrate the diversity of opportunities available to women after graduation.
“I want to see more women who have been in my shoes and see what they’ve done after graduation, whether that’s raise a family, do service opportunities, be the CEO of something, go to graduate school — there’s a whole slew of options out there,” she said. “I think it would be really cool to make those connections, to have networking events with more female alums and make it a priority to extend the sisterhood across the years. I think that’s a gap that can be filled.”
Leddy said through the club’s discussion sessions, she wants to fight the idea that women are one-dimensional.
“We’ll learn more about the issues themselves, but we’ll also learn more about the women who are discussing them,” she said. “So you’ll hear different perspectives from a girl who’s a biology major from Kentucky, and then there’s another girl who is a marketing major from Minnesota.
“There’s all these different backgrounds and interests and everything, so we’re hearing what they have to say and hear from their experiences, and that can teach you a lot about yourself, I think, along the way.”
Abby Palko, the director of undergraduate studies of the gender relations program and the club’s adviser, said the club will bridge some of these structural divides among women on campus.
“In my decade at Notre Dame, I’ve noticed that some of most rooted traditions and our greatest academic strengths can at times be isolating,” Palko said. “People tend to build strong friendships within dorms and majors, but there is little crossing to other dorms/majors. And it seems to me that students miss out on deep friendships and challenging conversations that way.
“When I think back to my undergraduate years, some of my very best friends neither lived in my dorm nor studied in my college. And my life today would be immeasurably poorer without their continued presence in my life.”
Leddy said she began the club approval process with the Student Activities Office in February and recruited student leadership and garnered support of the Gender Relations Center (GRC) throughout last spring. She said initial interest in the club amongst female students was encouraging.
“The first info session I had, I think there was a group of about 20 women who came,” Leddy said. “They just saw an email on the GRC listserv, and at the end of the meeting, I went over the mission, … and then I said, ‘Meeting adjourned, you can stay after if you have any questions or want to get involved, and if not, thanks for coming.’ And I said, ‘Meeting adjourned’ and pretended to hit a gavel, and no one left.
“They all lined up to talk to me. I thought that was a really great sign, because I think that they’ll be a really good group of people who are passionate about this kind of thing and who are really excited about this.”
Leddy said while the focus of the club will be to bring issues that many women face to light, anyone would be welcome to contribute to the discussions.
“[The issues we discuss] also affect men, which is why I think it would be a good idea to have men involved in the discussion,” Leddy said. “I am as much of an advocate for maternity rights as I am for paternity rights, so those sorts of things are really interesting … although the primary focus is on women, it’s not limited to just women.”