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Rutgers women highlight importance of predecessors at symposium

“From Exclusion to Inclusion” was a symposium hosted at Rutgers on Tuesday where researchers discussed the lives of women at the University over the years. – Photo by Chloe Coffman

With hopes of changing the future, women of Rutgers took time on Tuesday to speak about their influential predecessors.

Held on International Women’s Day, “From Exclusion to Inclusion” highlighted the work of several prominent women in the University’s history, said Marisa Fuentes, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

“Recounting the history of women at this institution is vitally important so it’s not forgotten,” she said. “It gives us a sense of how far we’ve come and how far we need to go, and the community that’s here for us.”

Learning from the past can help those trying to force change in the present, said Nafisa Tanjeem, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. Underrepresented or otherwise marginalized groups are able to learn from the struggles that their predecessors overcame.

Understanding the historical roots behind why these groups are marginalized can help society advance beyond them, she said.

“You need to look at the past and have a critical lens,” she said. “(You need to) look at why people do what they did and how we can address the mistakes (made) in the past, how they can correct it and make changes in (the future).”

Tanjeem attended the event to learn about women at Rutgers, and how they succeeded despite barriers in the academic fields here. These women’s coping mechanisms likely helped them surpass their difficulties.

Tanjeem also attended some of the talks presented by undergraduate researchers at the University.

“I was just impressed to look at the research undergrad students did, the depth of their archival research, the variety of topics, the critical analysis,” she said. “The part that Rutgers undergrads stood out to me.”

Tanjeem also found learning from the professors who spoke to be an interesting experience, given they had actually lived through some of the barriers the undergraduates spoke about.

The symposium was part of the Rutgers 250 celebration, said Paloma Caravantes, an instructor with the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

“I think it’s crucial to (recognize) the history of women at Rutgers that is not normally known,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen anything (like this) at Rutgers (and) I’ve been teaching here for three years.”

Analyzing the experiences of women in the past from a modern perspective helped people see how situations have changed, said Kelly Hannavi, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Hannavi spoke about her work during the event.

“I think (International Women’s Day) means there’s finally a global recognition to the work and labor that women put in that typically goes unrecognized,” she said. “To just have one day for women means a lot.”

Recognition of the day was symbolic of the successes women have had, Hannavi said.

“It shows how far we’ve come, from not having any access to higher education to finally getting Douglass, to finally being co-educational,” she said. “It shows there was a struggle there, it wasn’t simple, it wasn’t easy (and) a lot of people fought hard.”

Hannavi’s research focused on analyzing the photographs from the last several decades and comparing that to the actual history of women at the University, she said. The way many women were represented in photos did not match reality.

“These photographs, although we take it as the proof of history, we take it as it is,” she said. “(But) there’s a lot of construction behind them. Those images are not the exact reality.”


Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor of The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.

Chloe Coffman is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in communication. She is the associate photo editor of The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @chlololo for more.


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