Women’s Center celebrates Women’s History Month


Amanda Pitts


Ben Glick

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Grand Valley State University Women’s Center is holding its 11th annual “EqualiTea” gathering on March 18. The event will take place at 3 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center room 2204 and is free and open to all students. In order to ensure there is enough food for everyone, those who plan to attend are asked to sign up online in advance.

The event is the cornerstone of the Women’s History Month events planned by the Women’s Center, overseen by its associate director, Jo Ann Wassenaar. It is homage to the tea parties held by women who discussed ways to gain suffrage in the early 20th century.

“We always try to honor that history and the work and the sacrifice of the women in the suffrage movement made during those times,” Wassenaar said.

Students will be seated with faculty and community members to discuss issues on equal rights for women and ways they can be advanced.

Despite the discussion being geared toward topics that affect women, the Women’s Center encourages all students to take part in what is described as a celebration.

EqualiTea is co-sponsored by the American Association of University Women and GVSU’s women and gender studies department.

Along with the food and beverages being served, the event features a spoken word poetry reading by four students presenting their work on equality and activism.

Wassenaar said it is important not to forget the lessons learned by pioneering women.

“We honor all the work that the women did that we take advantage of what we have now, because at the time they certainly were not a given,” she said.

That is not to underscore the continued effect that the Women’s Center has on campus. Wassenaar cites the continued effort against violence and a need to protect women’s rights at the university.

“Oftentimes the work we do can be heavy work, so this is also a time of celebration, of the achievements and coming together, and having food and being able to talk to others,” she said.

EqualiTea was the brainchild of now retired professor and dean of advising resources Mary Seeger. She was an active participant in many women’s groups in the Grand Rapids area, including the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council.

“(Seeger) felt we needed to look at the history of the tea parties and the work they did,” Wassenaar said. “She was one of the first feminists of Grand Valley and the first woman dean. So the kind of work that she had to do and the climate she worked under certainly paved the way for the rest of us as the years have advanced and the university has evolved.”

The event is also organized by Women’s Center Director Jessica Jennrich and director of women and gender studies Kathleen Underwood.

At this time of reflection, the Women’s Center also wishes that participants recognize the fragile state that most of the accomplishments are in. Citing reproductive rights and status within society, Wassenaar demonstrated how the event is still relevant for women.

“We always want to remember that anything that is given can also be taken away,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

However, Wassenaar does not want the weight of all the issues to miss the point of EqualiTea.

“We still want the EqualiTea to be seen as a celebration,” she said. “We do all of that work through various other programs and trainings like that, but this is the time to celebrate the work that we have done, but as we look forward never to forget we can lose what we thought we’ve achieved.”

Many of the issues facing women will be up for discussion at EqualiTea and will also be explored at a variety of other events during Women’s History Month. They include guest speakers, discussions, and artistic exhibitions taking place at GVSU and joining together with events across Grand Rapids.

For a full listing of events taking place for Women’s History at GVSU, visit the Women’s Center’s website at www.gvsu.edu/women_cen/.