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Presentation commemorates UNH women's rights and equality activists, past and present

Men and women alike were welcomed to the Strafford Room with a slideshow of the Women’s March in Washington D.C., smooth jazz and a catered buffet as part of the UNH Women’s Commission’s event “The Fruit of the Struggle.”  Differing from events of previous years, this particular event shifted its keynote focus to the perspective of UNH students.

This annual award celebration, commemorating the women who fought for women’s rights and equality within the University of New Hampshire in the past and present, was in the Strafford Room of the Memorial Union Building on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 29.

The event was held by the UNH President’s Commission on the Status of Women, one of the President’s Commissions of the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity within UNH. The event was organized by Jill Varney, business manager of the Institute on Disability, and Faina Bukher, project manager for the Center for Social Innovation & Enterprise. The awards celebrated the outstanding work in promoting the status of women on campus.

The event opened up with an introduction by the educational program coordinator for the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, Sylvia Foster.

In honor of UNH’s 150th anniversary, the women’s studies department offered a brand new course in this spring 2017 semester called “Surveying/Celebrating the Fruit of the Struggle” taught by UNH faculty member Stapleton. According to the course description, “The course explores the breadth and depth of Women’s Studies from a historical perspective.”

The highlight of the event showcased a panel composed of Jane Stapleton, junior sociology and women’s study major and teacher’s assistant Yami Bencosme  and undergraduate students, Shannon Bryant and Brittany Sherman who are currently taking the class. The four panelists went back in time to the modest beginnings of UNH through the annals of its history. The crowd watched the panel take them through the struggles and triumphs of slow yet steady progress as UNH women fought for gender equality and equal rights, a struggle that continues today.

When asked what their takeaways were from this project were as millennial women, Bryant said, “Freedom isn’t a wrapped package. It needs to constantly be monitored. This project made me truly appreciate the women who fought for our rights.”

In response to the same question, Sherman said, “We were pretty oppressed. You can really see face-to-face all the progress and setbacks of women. You can really see how far we have come.”

Stapleton wrapped up the panel discussion with patient optimism and hope for the future of women by saying, “We still have a long way to go despite all the progress that has been made. We should not be silent! I will not be silenced.”

The event concluded with the issuing of three awards given to those who have helped promote the societal status of women within this campus and beyond. The Stephanie Thomas Award was presented to Dr. Fiona Wilson, clinical associate professor of social innovation, social entrepreneurship and sustainability and executive director of the Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise. The President’s Commission on the Status of Women Award was awarded to professor of political science and women’s studies, chair of the department of political science and coordinator of the women’s studies program, Marla Brettschneider.

Senior women’s studies major Abby Geremia, was the recipient of the prestigious Women’s Commission Student Award.

“I am grateful to be in the ranks of all these amazing women with all their accomplishments,” Geremia said. “It’s truly an honor.” 

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