In October, the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) partnered with HWS Votes to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. The clubs co-hosted a window decorating event in the Scandling Campus Center, and members of HWS Votes were on hand to help register students to vote. After engaging with community members across campus, including the Rising Panthers – a grassroots student organization focused on inclusive excellence – the window display was further updated with tributes to Women of Color who have made groundbreaking contributions in the fight for gender equality and voting rights.
In a letter sent to the campus community about their effort, the PLEN Leadership Team emphasized the exclusionary legacy of the bill and their ongoing commitment to amplify all women’s voices and encourage voter registration. “The purpose of the event was to commemorate this milestone in our country’s history, reflect on and discuss who this legislation excluded and how this remains relevant today, and to remind students to VOTE,” they wrote.
While students decorated the windows, they also engaged in critical conversations about the legacy of voter suppression in America for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. They discussed the 19th Amendment in particular, and how it only secured the vote for white women – despite the contributions of Women of Color to passing the legislation. Following the event, the PLEN Leadership team listened to voices from the HWS community express a need for a more inclusive display in the Scandling Campus Center.
With the Rising Panthers, they engaged in meaningful dialogue about how they could update their artwork. Rising Panthers member Fatim Cisse ’23 advocated for celebrating trailblazing Women of Color. The display now includes tributes to: Sarah J. Smith Tompkins Garnet, Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Ida B. Wells, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Nannie Helen Burroughs.
“We encourage you to take part in learning the stories of these women with us, who they are, and how they created fundamental changes in our democracy,” the PLEN Leadership Team says. “In recognition of their legislative labor, we continue to renew our vigilance in reclaiming the right to vote.”
PLEN’s programming this semester is focused on “intersectional feminism and self-care.” The Leadership Team has committed to creating safe, socially distant and in-person events that create space for William Smith students to connect and uplift one another, while continuing dialogue around inclusion and change.