Women celebrate overcoming discrimination

Hillary Clinton, Donna E. Shalala and NBC’s Jackie Nespral all share at least one thing in common.

Yes, they’re all women, but they are also pioneers for their gender.

During the opening tea ceremonies for Women’s History Month in the School of Business courtyard, Shalala, Nespral and Barbara Khan, dean of the business school, shared their experiences of overcoming gender discrimination with more than 40 women. They encouraged the women to be confident in all their decisions.

“I am proof that you can do it all as a woman,” said Nespral, the first Hispanic woman to serve as president of UM’s Alumni Association and the first Hispanic anchor for network television.

After three years of anchoring for NBC’s weekend “Today Show” in New York, the mother of four said she chose to take a local position so she could be with her family.

“We can have it all,” Nespral said. “Hillary Clinton was once the strength behind the man, but today that has changed. We can be leaders.”

The kickoff event, one of many free events to be hosted by the Yellow Rose Society and the Women’s History Month Committee, welcomed all of its participants with iced tea and an assortment of hors d’oeuvres.

“We want to shine light on the achievement of women,” said Zainab Davis, the first vice president of the Yellow Rose Society. “We felt that as an all women’s organization it was part of our responsibility to our members and to all women on campus to get involved.”

This is the second year that the Yellow Rose has actively recognized Women’s History Month, a celebration that began in 1978 as “Women’s History Week” in Sonoma County, Calif., and was first celebrated throughout the entire month of March in 1987.

In a short speech, Shalala acknowledged that she is used to being the first in a lot of things, such as being the first woman to head a Big Ten university – but over time she said she started to realize that she is not the only woman in the room – a sign of the changing times.

“When my mom was born, women couldn’t vote,” Shalala said. “My opportunities have come because of the women’s movement. All of us stand on the shoulders of women who came before us.”

Shalala also reminded students that there are still obstacles to overcome.

“Today, there are still times when I walk into a room and know there are people questioning my credentials,” Shalala said. “I learned to talk about the things the guys talked about. I played the game and used humor to deflect sometimes, but I never tolerated sexist remarks.”

After the event was over, freshman Courtney Cross-Johnson said she was encouraged by listening to Nespral.

“I feel that as a black woman I’m going to have to work even harder, but I know that the best thing I can do is to be positive,” said Cross-Johnson, who wants to become a school administrator.

Liana Kozlowski may be contacted at l.kozlowski@umiami.edu.