Addressing Issues Facing Women – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Addressing Issues Facing Women

The Women’s Institute for Leadership and Learning will host the Seneca Falls Dialogues in Seneca Falls, N.Y.  from Friday, Oct. 8 – Sunday, Oct. 10.  With a theme of “Call and Response: Crossing Feminist Borders,” the conference promotes the growth and development of activism.

“We hope to create a sense that we are still in a dialogue with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the dialogue she began in 1848,”says Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer, one of the event’s organizers.  Stanton, a leading women’s suffragist, spoke at the first women’s right’s convention at Seneca Falls in 1848.  “We want this to be a chance to pick up a conversation and carve out the issues facing women today.”

The dialogues will feature keynote speaker President of the National Women’s Studies Association Beverly Guy-Sheftall.  Guy-Sheftall is also the founder of Spelman College’s Women’s Research and Resource Center and the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies.  The weekend will be comprised of many panels led by inspirational women – activists, professors, and students.  Panel topics for the dialogues include new feminist theories, women in academe, and women and mass media.

Assistant Professor of English Sarah Russo is leading a panel, “Branching Out: Some Critical Perspectives on the 19th-Century Women’s Rights Movement,” comprised of three William Smith students.  Bernadette Wormuth ‘12, Tatianna Echevarria ‘13 and Christine Nerney-Zapetis ’11 will share projects they began in a course taught by Russo, 19th Century Women Writers.  The projects invited students to explore women as political activists.

“These women were vocal and active in public spheres despite the roles we peg them in as homemakers,” says Russo.  “This is an amazing opportunity to share what we are doing at HWS with a larger community and to generate a productive conversation with an emphasis on doing, on activism.”

“It’s important to know the past to actively work on continuing reform and to understand the reform that still needs to happen,” adds Russo.

Assistant Professor of Media and Society Leah Shafer will also contribute to the events with the creation of a film.  Shafer found inspiration in the Declaration of Sentiments, a document written in large part by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and modeled after the Declaration of Independence; it was signed at the first women’s rights convention, and is considered the foundation for women’s suffrage in the United States.  

One sentence in particular struck a chord with Shafer: “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.”  Shafer plans to invite every participant at the weekend symposium to read these powerful words aloud.  She will also conduct brief interviews asking the women of the conference to share what this line conjures for them.

 “I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to honor the women who spoke out in a time when it was not easy to do so,” remarks Shafer.  “It’s important to be part of the ongoing conversation about the role of women in U.S. culture.” 

Once the film is complete, it will be available for viewing on the Seneca Falls Dialogues website.  “I hope that in being able to access the film, it will invite women from across the global community to join the dialogue,” explains Shafer.

Professor Bayer reiterated the importance of community emphasized by the dialogues.   “The conference seeks to make a community of learning – a community throughout Upstate New York in particular.  We have incredible women joining us from places like Buffalo, Rochester, and Brockport,” said Bayer.  However, “Crossing Feminist Borders” is a way of connecting with women the world over, she adds, and it is the responsibility of the women of New York State to continue the conversation beyond the weekend and reach out across borders. 

The Seneca Falls Dialogues, sponsored in part by Hobart and William Smith Colleges, begin with an opening reception on the evening of Friday, Oct. 8, and continue throughout the weekend.  William Smith student Merrill Amos ’11 will be among several musicians performing.  The Dialogues will come to a close Sunday, Oct. 10.

All are encouraged to attend.  Students may attend at a discounted rate.

Visit the event’s website for more information on registration and itinerary:


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