Mar 27, 2024
Olivia Boudreau

“Women Can Be Anything”: Celebrating Women’s History Month

Since 1987, the month of March has been designated as Women’s History Month in the United States. To honor this month at Assumption, the Director of Assumption’s Women’s Studies Program, Cinzia Pica, and student members of the program, Katy Cannistraro and Lizzy Cappelli, shared the importance of highlighting women’s history and women’s studies and their favorite aspects of the program.

The Women’s Studies Program, according to Pica, is an interdisciplinary program that examines conversations about society through a gendered lens. 

“Students in the Women’s Studies program are able to engage in a number of conversations, and dialogue, and study of gendered phenomena – things like gender-based violence, wage inequality, the intersection of poverty and gender, the intersection of gender and migration,” said Pica. “We think about women and their multiple intersecting identities as well as their experiences of discrimination, injustice, inequity, based on those intersections of identities as well.”

Cannistraro and Cappelli are both Women’s Studies minors, choosing to pair the program with their distinctive majors of study; both are Human Services majors.

“When I think about Human Services, I think of it as a helping profession,” Cappelli, a member of the class of 2024, said. “it’s important to have knowledge of what challenges the population you’re working with are dealing with or what opportunities are out there for them. I think [the human services and women’s studies programs] complement each other really well.”

“I’ve always been very passionate about issues related to social justice, and I want to learn more about gender inequalities in society,” Cannistraro, a member of the class of 2024, said. “When I found out about the program, it was a no brainer.”

Women’s Studies is offered as a minor and a special major at Assumption, with multiple interdisciplinary courses offered each semester both inside and outside of the Women’s Studies designation. 

“The courses we offer are in all kinds of disciplines, from English to history to psychology, human services, economics, sociology, and nursing,” said Pica. “We offer over 50 courses across the curriculum that count as Women’s Studies courses that are cross listed in the Women’s Studies program. We also have three foundational Women’s Studies.”

These courses specifically cross-listed with a Women’s Studies course designation are Women’s Studies I: Images of Women in America, which is an introductory course in the study and history of women in the United States; Women of the World, which is a course examining the experiences of women across cultures; and Gender-Based Violence, a course that examines the pervasive problem of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

Along with academic offerings, the program hosts educational and interactive events for the community during the semester; in the fall, the program hosted Massachusetts State Senator Robyn Kennedy, a class of 2003 Assumption alum, for a discussion about intersectional leadership and community engagement. Most recently, the program hosted Dr. Sarah Small, an economics professor from the University of Utah and Assumption alum from the class of 2016, for a discussion about feminist economics.

“We put on one to two programs per semester. They’re open to our community, all students, alumni and community members, and we have engaged in all kinds of interesting topics and dialogues,” said Pica. “They’re a wonderful opportunity for dialogue on issues that are focused on women and gender.”

The program has been valuable for students to engage with aspects of women’s studies that they may have never considered before in an academic, or even social, context. Cappelli, who along with her Human Services major also has a double major in Spanish, found that the minor complemented both programs of study well, with the minor allowing her to learn more about women with different cultures and experiences.

“The program is really fascinating because it covers the history of the women’s movement and so many different areas, from women’s experiences in Spain to in the US, and really gives you a new perspective on society as a whole,” said Cappelli. “One of the courses I really enjoyed was Women Contemporary Writers, which is a Spanish composition course. It looks at women during the civil war in Spain under Franco and what their expectations were versus how they actually lived their lives.”

“The program kind of introduced me to intersectionality, which is the idea that we all have many different identities and they can overlap to form our experiences of privilege and oppression,” said Cannistraro.  “The program has also given me critical thinking skills; for example, viewing society through a feminist lens and seeing all the gender inequalities that there are, even when they’re hidden. The program taught me a lot of empathy and how to value and validate other people’s perspectives when they come from all different backgrounds.” 

During March, multiple institutions, along with people across the country, spend considerable time “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history,” according to the official Women’s History Month website

“When I think about it, it’s this idea that we’re taking time to reflect on a particular experience, both in the sense of the challenges women have faced and are still facing, but also the opportunities that have arisen throughout history and how things are continuously changing,” said Cappelli. “It provides space to acknowledge that and to reflect on where we are as a society.”

“This month has always been a very important month to me. It’s a time of reflection of all the women around me and appreciation for them, and also the women that had come before me and have laid the path for me,” said Cannistraro. “It’s also very important to me because I work with young girls at a summer camp. This month especially, I’m thinking of them, and hoping that they’re learning about and having the time to appreciate women who have accomplished big things and have overcome barriers. I hope they’re learning that there are so many possibilities for them in this world.”

Pica also emphasized that it is important to acknowledge during Women’s History month, and every month, that women still face inequities in society, such as wage inequity, underrepresentation at the highest levels of business and government, and high levels of gender-based violence. 

“We also have to use this month as a political space, to spend time really thinking about how to engage in social movements towards change,” Pica said.

“I have been learning about how to be a better advocate for people all around, but especially for those who have faced oppression, and getting to work with all different kinds of humans that come from all different backgrounds, and being able to appreciate and see the value that they bring to the table and the backgrounds that they come from,” said Cannistraro.  “I think you learn best from those that are different from you, and I think that my experience in the women’s studies program has definitely taught me to see that and to appreciate the differences that I have with people.”