Black women in spotlight at symposium

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If you weren’t there, you should have been.  In commemoration of Women’s History Month, Florida A&M’s Department of History and Political Science kicked off its inaugural women’s history symposium on Thursday.

The theme was WAP, Women and Power, Politics & the Public Gaze.

The inaugural event had a powerhouse of panelists including Tiffany Packer an assistant professor of history; Ameenah Shakir the director of the Candidate Empowerment Center; and graduating senior Rachel Harden, an African American studies major.  WAP was moderated by Kimberly Brown Pellum, an assistant Professor of history at Florida A&M University.

Although conducted on Zoom, the symposium packed a punch.  Panelists discussed critical topics such as: reimagining liberation through song and showmanship, Black women childbirth-medical bias and mortality and the impacts of social media on your college experience, and how to find your authentic self.

With more than 80 participants logged in, the audience was eager to learn about the research and insight each panelist presented.  The symposium was extremely interactive and gave participants the opportunity to share their opinions in a space that was safe and respectful.  Both men and women weighed in on each topic following the presentations.

Packer was an important component to this week’s inaugural symposium.  Her coverage of the reimagining of women’s liberation through song and showmanship set the tone for what WAP was going to mean.

Packer began her presentation discussing the liberation of Black people through music and dove into the modern day reclaiming of women’s bodies and the ideals through music and performance.  Women like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have taken to their craft to address social, cultural and sexist issues.

“Black women continue to be instrumental.  The challenge is not just to how we understand liberation in terms of race but also in terms of gender. It is important for women to own their sexuality and to know that they are deserving of rights no matter their occupation,” Packer said

Following Packer, Shakir presented the facts and fiction of what it’s like to be a Black woman in the delivery room.  She discussed some of what Virginia Alexander — an American Black woman physician in the early 1900s — found concerning during her practice.  Alexander was particularly concerned with the way Black women perceived their treatment as they were entering hospitals to give birth.

“Some of the responses Alexander garnered during these timers were, ‘Our baby died in 1933 due to lack of medical attention,’ and, ‘They tried to force me to have an operation that I didn’t need,’” Shakir said.  These types of horror stories continue to plague Black women in labor today.

Harden, a graduating senior, capped WAP with a presentation that Generation Z is all too familiar with, the power of social media.  Harden discussed the unnerving ways that our peers seemingly present their lives on the internet to be filled with only vacationing, internship acceptances and scholarships, leaving out their failures, losses and disappointments.

“You only see the good stuff.  People aren’t posting about their failures or their struggles. They aren’t posting about their lapses in mental health.  They’re only posting their offer letters and relationship pictures.  For them it seems like everything is falling into place while you’re falling by the wayside.  But lately I figured out that none of that stuff matters,” Harden said.

She stressed the importance of living for yourself and letting go of the expectations other have set for you.  “At the end of the day you have to worry about yourself.  Other people’s expectations can and will affect your confidence, especially as a Black woman.  As a Black woman we are always conscious of the way the world sees us. ‘What will they think if I wear my hair like this or if I wear this outfit is it professional,’ etcetc.,” Harden said. “That’s why it is important to find and be your authentic self.”