This fall, Northwestern commemorates 150 years of enrollment for women and non-binary people as undergraduate students. The anniversary allows students and faculty to recognize the history of both groups at the university and the many trailblazers that have impacted the fight for gender equality at Northwestern. In honor of this landmark, the Women’s Center is hosting a variety of events, including keynote speaker Yolanda Flores Niemann. Deering Library is also displaying “On the Same Terms,” an exhibition of the history of women’s education at Northwestern.

Student Body President SESP fourth-year Isabel Dobbel shared her thoughts on what these 150 years mean to her as a woman in a prominent leadership position on campus.

“It’s definitely a great legacy to be holding and to be a part of,” Dobbel said. “This inherently wasn’t made for everyone. It was made for a certain student of a certain income of a certain race.” Despite this, Dobbel has broken down barriers in her work at Northwestern. “Being an immigrant woman, low income, and being in this space is something that I think maybe the first class of women would have been really happy to see,” Dobbel appreciated, “But I do know also holding this position that there’s still a lot of growth to be done.”

Northwestern Student Body President Isabel Dobbel / Photo courtesy of Associated Student Government

One area in which Dobbel sees this need for growth is in the differential standards female leaders are expected to uphold. She illustrated how this varies with the expectations in place for male leaders.

“A standard outfit that’s acceptable is jeans and a t-shirt, but with women, there’s always the perception of did you brush your hair?” Dobbel asked. “Did you put on makeup? What’s your jewelry saying? If you have any kind of form showing through your clothing or not, and the ideas that come with it.”    

Dobbel further noted the prejudice she encountered as a woman speaking up in student spaces. During one specific incident, Dobbel recounted, “My voice wasn’t being respected, and other women's voices in the room weren’t being respected.” This contrasted with the way men’s voices were received. Dobbel observed that “they were being heard before me, they were being heard over me.”

Dobbel, who intends to run for office herself, hopes to create progress for women in the future. “I want to be in Illinois, protecting Illinois and the ERA and protecting the rights that women have, but not forgetting about the other states that don’t have it,” Dobbel said.

Dobbel also touched on the need for greater inclusion of other groups in the anniversary’s recognition. “With especially gender non-binary folk and trans folk this is just as much their celebration as it is ours,” Dobbel stated. She spoke further on those working to bring this change to campus. “We’ve had an amazing slate of student activists who have brought that conversation,” Dobbel said. “Adam, my partner in ASG, my vice president, they’ve been super active all four years. They’ve put so much labor into making sure that these conversations are had and that progress is being made.”

Adam Davies, the executive vice president of Northwestern Associated Student Government, elaborated on how they’ve made these necessary changes. “I and another student from ASG had to do a lot of work in the background to make sure that they included non-binary students,” Davies recalled.

Northwestern Executive Vice President Adam Davies / Photo courtesy of Associated Student Government

In an email sent to the Chairs and Committee Members of the 150 Years of Women Committee, Davies critiqued the original omission of non-binary people in the anniversary. Specifically, they noted how the term “womxn” by the committee does not include all gender nonconforming people. Davies wrote, “We believe that the singular use of this term aids in the erasure of trans and non-binary individuals, and we are asking for an explicit statement that Northwestern’s celebration of its ‘150 years of women’ extends to women as well as non-binary individuals.”

The email caused administration to alter their previous depiction of the anniversary. They’ve since agreed to update the language on the website, along with the hashtag used, bring more non-binary programming to campus, and further look into the history of non-binary students at Northwestern.

In addition, ASG has received additional funding for women’s centered events as well as for non-binary programming. Davies sees this creating positive change by increasing representation of non-binary people on campus. Davies said this funding is, “leading to a larger conversation of what is our responsibility as an institution to make sure that we make it aware that we support trans and non-binary students.”

Davies acknowledges that there are still advances that need to be made and perceives this anniversary as an opportunity to accomplish more.

“The hope is that in coordination with this 150 years of women and non-binary folks at Northwestern, we can do some work around increasing what do pronouns look like, what does it look like to support our non-binary students and working with all parts of Northwestern to do that better, because it’s part of the 150 years.”  

Thumbnail courtesy of Wikimedia Commons