Thursday, Sept. 7, the College of William and Mary Women’s Network hosted its Fall 2023 reception to welcome the women workers of the College back to campus. Professors, administrators, professional and operational staff and classified and hourly employees all filled Hunter Hall of the Alumni House to celebrate the work and advocacy of female faculty and staff on campus.
The Women’s Network is a support group of faculty, staff and administrators at the College who act as an advocacy and social network on campus. The organization does not discriminate based on sex, allowing all interested employees to participate in its efforts. The Society of 1918, an endowment created in 2018 on the centennial anniversary of the admission of women into the College, sponsored the reception.
“If you have benefited from daycare on campus, if you’ve ever considered salary issues for yourself or another woman you’ve worked with, if you’ve gone up those stairs from the ISC that were once clear and are no longer clear, if you’ve used a pumping or a breastfeeding room on campus, then you have benefited from a lot of the behind-the-scenes advocacy that this network has been doing for many, many years,” Meghan Miller, co-chair of the Women’s Network and senior lecturer in the psychology department, said during the reception.
Miller and Sarah Thomas, associate director of the Lemon Project, are the two co-chairs of the Women’s Network. Their executive committee is made up of six other volunteer female employees at the College.
“We all come from different backgrounds and we obviously make a lot of different salaries, but together we’re an important group of William and Mary employees,” Thomas said. “We’re the largest group of William and Mary employees, women. It matters to be able to come together as fellow employees and celebrate each other.”
The event featured two main speakers, Provost Peggy Agouris and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Suzanne Raitt.
Agouris spoke on the importance of vocally supporting other women across campus and about how the Women’s Network has supported her since she began her tenure as provost in 2019.
“I discovered the Women’s Network when I arrived at William and Mary, and it has been a tremendous network of support, even if it’s just to really commiserate and talk about crying in the bathroom and, kind of, trying to find the strength to move forward in difficult times and, actually, daily,” Agouris said.
Agouris briefly mentioned recent Supreme Court decisions that could have far-reaching effects on higher education and women in higher education, tying this allusion into her central message of the importance of the Women’s Network support system.
“To me, what we see and experience in the world around us underscores the importance of what it is that we are doing here,” Agouris said. “Changing times, yes. Our mission, which is to advocate for women and to promote an inclusive community, remains vital. The more we see incidents and developments like this, the more convinced we are that what we are doing is important. So let’s continue to be together, to have our voices stronger together, because that’s really what will make William and Mary and hopefully the rest of the academic environment a little bit of a better place for everyone.”
For Doris Taylor, chief communications and marketing officer at the College of William and Mary Law School, the reception was the first Women’s Network event she had attended as a recent hire.
“I thought it was interesting to meet the other women around William and Mary, because we are a community and working together is how we make a difference for our students,” Taylor said.
Working together as a community, but then also encouraging other women, learning how other women are doing jobs in different schools, different parts of the campus, really makes a difference.
Taylor has worked in education communications for over five years and began working at the Law School in June.
“Working together as a community, but then also encouraging other women, learning how other women are doing jobs in different schools, different parts of the campus, really makes a difference,” Taylor said.
Raitt spoke after Agouris, sharing stories of the women in her life who have helped her become the leader she is today. Raitt also noted the importance of having a network of women with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
“Even if we have lots in common as women, there are plenty of ways in which we’re all different from one another,” Raitt said. “We have different histories. We have intersectional identities. We became women in very different ways; I’m sure some of you have heard of Simone de Beauvoir, we weren’t all women. Our root there is different for every single one of us. One of the things that I really value about William and Mary community is the way in which we are good at following the advice that Biddy Martin gave at convocation, which is ‘Seek out people that you disagree with, seek out people that you don’t understand, and look for something, and try and understand that person.’”
Raitt shared that she grew up with several maternal figures in her life, one biological mother and two step-mothers.
“Each of them gave me something different and taught me in very different ways that there are a lot of different ways to love other people,” Raitt said. “So I’m really glad that I’m a woman, and I’m really glad to be here with you today. I think it’s an incredibly joyful thing to celebrate that we’ve all made it this far in our lives, and I look forward to going much further with all of you.”
Arielle Newby, assistant dean for student affairs at the Law School, spoke on behalf of the Black Faculty and Staff Forum transition team. The team is in the process of reviving their organization after a hit to its membership from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are focusing on achieving revitalizing our organization through advocacy and awareness, connection and networking, personal professional development, recruitment and retention and definitely getting some speakers and events to build our empowerment,” Newby said.
Newby invited the room to attend the forum’s meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 10:00 a.m.
“We ask that you definitely support, come and attend,” Newby said. “Obviously you don’t have to be Black, but if you are here to be supporters of Black encouragement, empowerment, especially on this campus, we would love to have you with us.”
Valerie Cushman representing the Society of 1918 remarked that there are currently 40 members of faculty and staff at the College who are members of the Society, with the endowment growing to $5.4 million with 600 supporting women in five years. Membership requires a payment of $10,000 over a five year period to the Alumnae Initiatives Endowment, or $5,000 for faculty and staff, active duty/veterans or alumni within their first 10 years of graduation.
“We put out a request for proposals last spring asking for men and women alike to submit a proposal that would somehow empower, celebrate, network, mentor, all William and Mary women,” Cushman said. “I’m really excited to announce that just this week, we have offered $45,000 in scholarships to faculty and staff around campus.”
Miller encouraged the women in the room to carve out time within their days, using events like The Women’s Network’s monthly book club that meets on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., to take time for themselves, while supporting and celebrating each other.