As our nation enters another year of a once-in-a-generation pandemic, the NYSUT Women’s Committee is charting a path for the year ahead. Acknowledging that the pandemic impacted women, particularly women of color, more than any other group, Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president, whose office oversees the NYSUT Women’s Committee, encouraged attendees at the mid-November meeting to use their collective strength to stand together in their communities, build coalitions and make their voices heard.
“The loss of jobs, wages and childcare has set women back financially for decades, and by association women’s equity and equality,” she said noting that women must assume positions of prominence equal to men to “change the power paradigm” and make real change. DiBrango congratulated Liz Schuler, the first female president of the national AFL-CIO, calling her election a “huge step forward for labor.”
“Thank you for your dedication, your commitment and your solidarity,” said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT president in welcoming remarks. “We support your work 100 percent.”
Committee co-chairs Aisha Cook, New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees, and Leslie Rose, Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association, encouraged participants to continue building relationships and empowering their union sisters through their local women’s committees. “It’s important to have a network in place when issues arise, so we know that we’re never alone,” said Rose.
“We want girls to grow into confident and powerful women, who are equal to the men around them … nothing can stop us if we do this work together,” agreed Cook.
To foster such connections at the student level, Andrea McCue, Haldane FA; Rebekah Stoll, Valley Central TA; and Tenika Wilcox, Troy TA, discussed empowerment clubs, which provide students the space to explore issues like fairness, safety, equity, access and representation. Stoll started the WISE (We Inspire Strength and Empowerment) Club at Valley Central High School after “feeling like kids needed a safe space since there was a lot of negativity in the building.” She invites local female business leaders as club guest speakers, offers mentoring and engages in community outreach with club members. Several of her students praised the club, and thanked Stoll for her mentoring, via a Zoom call and pre-recorded video messages.
McCue, who spoke about Women Empowered at Haldane High School, noted that club members traveled to the 2016 women’s march, lobbied for and won free menstrual products in the high school bathroom and worked with the Gender Sexuality Alliance to establish a gender-inclusive bathroom. “The club gives kids the opportunity to find deep connections with themselves and with each other,” said McCue.
To help educators incorporate women’s issues into everyday lessons, Lori Atkinson, Copenhagen TA, led a presentation about the EmpowerHERment Framework, explaining that even subtle teaching changes can incorporate gender diversity into the curriculum. “When reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I have my students examine the book from Calpurnia’s feminist point of view so they don’t always look at things through the male lens,” said Atkinson.
Troy’s Wilcox suggests looking at curriculum textbooks to ensure that girls and children of color are represented in the readings. Other speakers encouraged attendees to use gender-free phrasing, provide more hands-on opportunities for genderless roles and to support girls’ interests in trades. Programs like the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters’ pre-apprenticeship program have brought more than 100 women into the field, and the WSWHE BOCES Women in Trades Initiative seeks to attract more women and girls into trade careers.
“We need to stop pigeon-holing pre-k, elementary and middle school girls into conceptions of what society thinks they should be,” said NYSUT Board member Dora Leland, Horseheads TA.
DiBrango discussed “Examining Curriculum Through an Equity Lens: Focus on Gender” a new, three-hour NYSUT Education and Learning Trust seminar slated to launch in March. The course will provide educators with strategies and reflective questions to help them create more inclusive classrooms. For information, visit elt.nysut.org.
Other programming included workshops on family planning and menopause awareness; implicit bias; self-care; and an empower art moment. Participants also collected sanitary napkins for Resisterhood New Paltz, an organization that helps women in need.
Follow this link to learn more about starting a Women’s Empowerment Club at your school.
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