March is Women’s History Month and female student leaders at UM are reflecting on what the month means to them and how they will celebrate the women of our campus.
For senior political science and international studies major Brittney Mensah, celebrating Women’s History Month means appreciating the women in her life.
“It means to be reminded that women have changed the world in so many ways and will continue to do so,” Mensah said. “It means that we are worthy of love and joy and happiness. Women’s History Month is a time to remember that women are the backbone of the world and that should not be forgotten.”
Several students have found powerful women in the UM community that inspire them to be the best version of themselves. Mensah serves as the president of African Students Union and emphasized that Kennedy Robinson and Stephanie Nunez are two female leaders from the Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) office that have made an impact on her life.
“They care for their mental and physical health which encourages other women to do the same,” Mensah said. “They are mentors for many women on campus, encourage us to be our best self, to love ourselves and never be afraid to ask for help. They are the definition of strong women who care for others.”
Other students look to the women at home that have raised them to be the people they are today. Zuri Greenlee’s grandmother and mother raised three Black children as single mothers.
A sophomore exercise physiology major and director of the Black Female Development Circle, Greenlee noted the strength that both figures instilled in her at a young age.
Her mother, Erica Greenlee, was a 21-year-old college junior in college when she gave birth. Despite having a newborn child, Greenlee’s mother was determined to finish her undergraduate studies.
“Today, she has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Appalachian State University,” Greenlee said.
Noting these sacrifices, Greenlee emphasized the desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“My mother is my true inspiration — she walked so I can run and I do not want to let her down,” Greenlee said. “She has cared for my siblings and me through all the sacrifices, trials, tribulations and good and bad times and for that, I am forever grateful.”
Women’s Network President Caroline Val also noted that she looks up to her mother, friends and co-workers.
“I look to them rather than a celebrity or a bigger public figure because of how close they are to me,” said Val, who is a junior journalism and political science major. “I’m able to really see how they struggle or rise above challenges on a daily basis along with how much I see them pursue their goals. I make it a point to let them know how proud I am of every single one of them as often as I can.”
These female role models have demonstrated excellence in their respective involvements. It has also given them the tools to empower other women at UM to chase their dreams and use their voice.
“There’s a significant amount of women involved in student government and I am always very conscious and intentional about asking them if they need help [with] something at their event [or]if they need support,” Student Government president and senior business technology major Jamie Williams-Smith said.
Williams-Smith believes that it’s important to have prominent Black women such as herself in leadership roles at UM, so that others see that it is possible to one day serve in leadership as well.
“It’s definitely possible for all women, but particularly for Black women to see another Black woman in this space and of this leadership position, showing them that they can achieve this [too],” Williams-Smith said.
For senior Africana studies and sociology major Mia Porter, women empowerment is about inclusion and connection. As president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), Porter makes her members feel welcome through relationship building.
“The key to empowering other women is empathy,” Porter said. “The ability to step outside of myself and meet someone where they are creates a unique opportunity to uplift and empower others. Uplifting other women around me is something that brings me great joy.”
The NCNW president values genuine relationships with others over blind leadership.
“Empowering women around me isn’t just about leading the organization, but about making personal connections with the women around me to ensure that they feel supported and cared for,” Porter said.
Black Awareness chair and senior health science major Dahlia Mason hopes that she can inspire the women around her by reminding them of their worth, what they are capable of and what they can achieve.
“Unfortunately, many women underestimate their abilities and compare themselves to others. These habits can be detrimental to one’s well-being,” Mason said.
For Greenlee, Women’s History Month is about celebrating how far women have come and all of the things they have contributed to society.
“When I think of Women’s History Month I look at it as a celebration of all women and our accomplishments in the world,” Greenlee said. “This month should be used to educate, empower and uplift our women for all we do in this world. I believe — if it was not for women — we would not have a lot of our inventions, trends, ideas, etc., because women make this world run.”