Story by Sarah Sabatke and Marianna Moore
March marks Women’s History Month in the United States. Several Mizzou women — both students and an alumna — shared their thoughts on the meaning of the month and how being involved has influenced their experiences as women on campus.
Degree: Bachelor’s of Journalism, 2018
Hometown: Mount Pulaski, Illinois
Cady Lowery says she didn’t know women’s history month existed until high school. When she found out, she questioned, “Why does women’s history have to be crammed into one month?”
“For me, this month is learning about all the different women I can,” she says. “I think a lot of times we hear about the same 10 women, and it’s like, ‘That’s it! There’s [all] your women!’ when that is not the case at all.”
Lowery says she tries to encourage and uplift the women around her, which is something she learned from the Association of Women in Sports Media (AWSM) at Mizzou. She still vividly remembers the two women at the organization’s information table who first got her interested in the organization.
“[They] sold me on having a space where women could network and really talk sports,” she says. “It’s not just for women, though!”
AWSM was a key part of her college career, even in terms of just seeing other women succeed.
“When one of my friends interned at ESPN between her junior and senior year, I remember thinking, ‘OK, I can do something like that. She went for it, and so can I.’ ”
Lowery is currently one of 12 “Hotdoggers” driving an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile around the country. The chosen individuals spend a year touring the U.S. and serving as the face of the Oscar Mayer brand.
Being a “strong, independent” woman (in life and on the road) can be both a blessing in a curse. Lowery notices sexism even in the way people speak to her — while her male counterpart is asked if he gets to drive the Wienermobile, she is asked “who drives it?”
“It’s as if him driving it is a given, but it’s like they’re looking for the driver when they see me,” she said.
“I end rather uncomfortable conversations with intense eye contact and and smile so uncrackable a sledge hammer wouldn’t do the job.”
Major: Journalism, senior
Hometown: Schaumburg, Illinois
“Women’s History Month is a recognition and acknowledgement of the oppression that women face and doing little things to overcome it.” says Destinee Patterson.
Patterson has been an active member of Black Women Rock! for two years. She likes what the organization symbolizes and how it celebrates women in the community.
“Black Women Rock! is an organization that recognizes black women on campus who are doing great things and who we feel should be recognized for all of their hard work,” Patterson says.
Patterson’s involvement with Black Women Rock! has empowered her and given her the encouragement she needs to be a strong woman.
“Black Women Rock! has allowed me to get involved with an organization that represents me,” Patterson says. “Being able to put on an event that recognizes other women who are in my same position has helped me navigate campus life knowing that I’m strong and that there’s always more you can do to help the people around you.”
Major: computer science, senior
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
As president of Missouri Students Association (MSA), Julia Wopata holds a position of power on campus — but she says at the time she didn’t even consider the fact she was a woman taking on the role.
“I just love talking to people,” she says, adding that she wants to “make things equal for everyone.”
Wopata will earn her degree in computer science, but that was not her original plan. She says she “did not really have any particular career aspirations” when she began college. She discovered an interest in computer science after designing a website for a friend early in her college career. An internship at an ice cream shop further solidified her decision to major in the field when her supervisor asked why she wasn’t studying the topic, since “most people don’t like coding.”
She is grateful for the support she received, especially from recent Mizzou grad Ashleigh Atasoy, who was Wopata’s “big” through the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Wopata says she was continually inspired by Atasoy’s work ethic and ambition, which pushed her to set high goals of her own.
To Wopata, Women’s History Month means acknowledging the “disparity between opportunities for [men and] women.”
“Women’s History Month is about recognizing women who have moved the needle,” said Wopata. “We have a past, but we have made advancements.”
Major: journalism (strategic communication), sophomore
Siena DeBolt joined PERIOD. at Mizzou, the local chapter of an organization that works to combat “period poverty” in the Columbia area and to address the stigma surrounding periods.
“Being in PERIOD. has impacted me as a woman on campus because I now have a space to talk comfortably about my menstruating body,” she said. “When I’m at PERIOD. meetings, menstruating is not a stigma, it’s celebrated.”
DeBolt credits MU professor Elisa Glick for making her “excited about sexual and gender diversity,” leading to a decision to minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She says Women’s History Month has never been more important because there is greater openness to discussing how “LGBTQ and [persons of color] within women’s groups … have been pushed out of the conversation.”
DeBolt has also been inspired by the Mizzou women involved with Sexual Health Advocate Peer Education (SHAPE) and PERIOD. because of their work to “change public health conversations.”
“I’ve had so many amazing female friends who have reminded me of how important my work is and what I can bring to the conversation,” she says.
Major: journalism (strategic communication), senior
Hometown: St. Louis
Jennifer Fowler joined Desire to Aspire in the hopes of being able to serve as a role model for younger girls. The organization aims to “uplift and empower underprivileged girls” in Columbia through leadership and service.
“I’m grateful to have been mentored by several strong women throughout my life and wanted to grant that same experience to a girl without the opportunity to [have those mentors],” said Fowler.
She said the organization has shown her the “value of mentorship” and the importance of having someone “in your corner.”
Fowler credits several women for being in her corner throughout her MU career, including Dr. Veronica Newton and adjunct professor Dianna O’Brien. She also said Carol Gee, MU alum and board member of the Griffith’s Leadership Society, has helped her to grow as a leader.
“As a woman of color, being recognized during Women’s History Month is particularly important to me,” said Fowler. “This month is about reflecting on the work women have done to level an unbalanced playing-field and encourages us to look toward what we have to do next.”