Cal Poly honored International Women’s Day with a women of diversity panel. The panel, comprised of two female staff members and a professor, discussed their personal experiences with gender, racial, social and economic issues.
Kathy Chen, a materials engineering professor, began the discussion with her story as an Asian-American raised in the Midwest.
“I didn’t want to go down the stereotypical path of an Asian, but it turned out I liked science and I liked math, so I had to accept that,” Chen said.
Working in a male-dominated field, Chen said facing barriers made her stronger, helped her gain confidence and contributed to not letting things bring her down.
“Now, as an educator, I help break down barriers and encourage people to help others,” she said.
Emily Hong, a political science and biological sciences sophomore, said women have a history of being undermined in the United States.
“Women have only had the right to vote for just shy of 90 years, while white upper-middle to upper class men have had the opportunity to vote since the inception of this country,” she said.
As a student coordinator for the MultiCultural Center and the moderator for the event, Hong said it was important for diverse women to speak because their voices have been oppressed even in the present-day on campus.
One of those women with a diverse background is Maria Arvisu-Rodriguez, an academic advisor. Arvisu-Rodriguez spoke about how she pursued higher education, attended Cal Poly for her undergraduate education and grew up with parents who were field workers.
Coming to Cal Poly was difficult for her, she said, with barely anyone speaking Spanish in California during the early ’80s. During her upbringing, she was most affected by low socio-economic issues, but gender still played a role.
“Growing up, my chores list was always longer than the boys’ in my family,” she said. “I’m now married to a man raised in a traditional Mexican-American home, but he knows how to help in the kitchen and with the laundry.”
Donna Davis, also an academic advisor, was the last speaker on the panel. Davis spoke about her upbringing in Kentucky when the Jim Crow laws were active.
“I have memories of having to drink from colored-only drinking fountains, going to the movies and having to sit in the balcony,” she said.
With strong mentors, Davis eventually came to California and was exposed to other cultures and freedoms Kentucky didn’t have.
“If it hadn’t been for those women who saw potential and took me under their wing, I don’t know where I would be,” she said.
International Women’s Day is celebrated in over 140 different locations and 18 different countries. The day was first observed in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In countries like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.
The Obamas celebrated the day at the White House with a short ceremony. President Obama promised to continue to support and empower women’s efforts in the United States and around the world.
Noa Raz, a business sophomore, said we sometimes forget life doesn’t revolve around school.
“We’re so focused on academia, we forget women’s issues and diversity are problems on campus,” she said. “We can recognize and change these problems if we start going to more on-campus events.”