Every year during Women’s History Month, the Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE) hosts EqualiTEA, an event for GVSU staff centered around the celebration of women and enjoyment of tea, crumpets, and conversation with friends. Last year, the discussion revolved around the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment and women’s right to vote. This year focused on women’s leadership, with a special message from Grand Valley State University President Philomena Mantella and her experience as a woman in a senior leadership role at GVSU.
Sharalle Arnold, the Assistant Director for CWGE, opened the celebration with a few words about the 19th annual EqualiTEA.
“This is a time for gathering and discussing important matters related to women and activism,” Arnold said. “While this year has delivered us quite the power-packed punch with a loss of friends and loved ones, we have experienced cancellations of some of life’s once-in-a-lifetime moments. In the true spirit of womanhood, we are still here. We are rising, climbing and still lifting.”
Even throughout the hectic nature of the past pandemic year, EqualiTEA has not missed a beat. Arnold said it is heartening to be able to witness an event with such a strong purpose continue to find the dedication and motivation to celebrate women, even when it has to be in a virtual space.
“We are here to celebrate women regardless of their education, their sexual orientation, their socio-economic status, marital status, race, or gender identification and so on,” Arnold said. “This tea time is curated for us and it’s about us. It is our time.”
The event consisted of opening remarks, listening to significant and impactful songs such as Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” watching a recorded message from Mantella, and an interactive segment where participants could lead their own conversations around the idea of women in leadership.
CWGE Director Jessica Jennrich outlined the significance the community has found in continuing this event virtually.
“Why do we do this?” Jennrich asked. “It is in part because tea has an important role in women’s history, but also because of its role in activist history in general.”
From abolitionist history in the 19th century to the tea parties of the 20th century that acted as social rights uprisings, to the current queer traditions of spilling tea and social media influencing, tea has played a role in history as something to unite and bind together communities and individuals. Bonding through tea and celebrating the history of women leaders through it is a testament to the positive effect found in tearooms in the past and up to today.
As a woman in a leadership role herself, Mantella took a moment to speak about her past experience with leadership and the role that every woman plays in leadership in their lives.
“We join together to celebrate those who have become before us, but more importantly, we join together to influence the future,” Mantella said. “To make the path brighter, better, smoother for those that will follow us.”
The theme for this year’s EqualiTEA is “it’s time,” — and listeners must all ask themselves: time for what? This question urges people to think about how GVSU and its greater community can benefit from an understanding of where we are now and where we are going. It is time to move forward and to continue positive growth along the way.
“It’s not good enough to count women leaders on the senior leadership team or in the cabinet,” Mantella said. “We have many and we are proud of that, but we can always do better by making sure that there are equity and opportunity in leading day to day. We all know that leadership happens every day and in every job. My stated goal and the goal of our senior leadership team is to ensure that talent is recruited, developed, and advanced. It is time. It is time for Grand Valley to make sure there are no systemic barriers for you to grow, scale your impact, and win.”