University of Vermont

Angela Davis Highlights Inaugural UVM Women's Summit

Angela Davis
Civi rights activist and icon Angela Davis signs a poster for a Women's Summit participant at a reception following the event. (Photo: Sally McCay)

More than 250 faculty, staff and members of the local community packed the Davis Center’s Silver Maple Ballroom Room to listen to activist, author and scholar Angela Davis and to discuss complex issues related to gender and identity in the workplace at the first-ever University of Vermont Women’s Summit on Nov. 13.

The all-day forum organized by the Office of the Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs explored common challenges and experiences in the workplace through presentations, panel discussions, and workshops, and presented social opportunities for women to network and share information that will be advantageous in career advancement. “It is rare that women across campus come together to discuss issues pertinent to who they are in the academy,” said CESS Dean Fayneese Miller. “The Women's Summit was an opportunity for us to do so. We were able to affirm our identity and take pride in who we are and what we have and continue to accomplish as women at UVM.”

Davis, a legendary figure in the 1960s civil rights movement and Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminists Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz, opened by highlighting the low number of women of color in higher education (only 3.4 percent are full professors) and the need for a more “collective political imagination and sense of empowerment” built through “communities of resistance” like in the 1960s. “Today, we have access to so much more that could facilitate that kind of community,” she said, adding that today’s more individualistic society makes that challenging.

Once listed among the FBI’s "10 Most Wanted," Davis warned against the notion that the victories of the 1960s are “etched in stone as though irreversible” and that because we finally have a black president “we can move beyond them.” “We say that we’re so totally disappointed with Obama, but why aren’t we so totally disappointed in ourselves?”

Davis also facilited a workshop titled "Women of Color in Higher Education: Ain't I a Woman?" Other workshops focused on "Women in Academia: From the Classroom to the Executive Wing," "Women Lead the Way " and “Taking Up Space: The Politics and Perceptions of Dress in the Workplace. “My parents were civil rights workers, and they impressed on me that what you look like matters,” said Miller, who served on the latter panel. "Dressing a certain way may not always help, but dressing any other way hurts us. Before you open your mouth people will judge you. I want people to know that I’m there and that I have something to say.”

Event organizer Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president for Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, said demand for the summit was high and was reflected in the large turnout.

“The UVM Women’s Summit exceeded my expectations,” said Heading-Grant. “It was a nourishing and stimulating daylong exchange of ideas. Women didn’t just come together; we listened, talked, networked, reflected and planned around our lives. It was a momentous day for the University of Vermont, and I am proud to have played a part. It was empowering.”