Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

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A circle of support

Campus groups join together to empower women

For the past two years, Sister Circle, a collective of four organizations, has been working together to promote a supportive and empowering environment for women at Wheaton.

Recently, the collective hosted its first campus-wide outreach event, HerStory, in which women shared personal stories covering a range of experiences. The successful gathering highlights the power of strength in numbers that Caitlin Hawkins ’14 envisioned when she founded Sister Circle in fall 2011.

Hawkins, who is president of the Feminist Association of Wheaton (FAW), said that the goal of Sister Circle is to foster community between FAW, Renaissance House, Emerson Feminist Perspective House, and Distinguished Women of Color Collective. The monthly members-only events hosted by Sister Circle gives them all a chance to bond and learn about the perspectives of each other’s organizations. And members have been attending each other’s meetings and events.

This semester, Sister Circle opened up to the Wheaton community at large by hosting HerStory, in Mary Lyon Hall, on October 22. The collective also plans to host at least one campus-wide event every semester.

“As women, we have all felt devalued at some point in our lives because of gender, and these experiences can be incredibly isolating,” says Alexandra Natale ’16, vice president of FAW. She pitched the HerStory idea to Sister Circle after learning about a similar event hosted at another school.

“I wanted the event to illustrate that we are all connected by these experiences, and that we can come together, heal, and make change. I wanted the event to be a space where people could learn about the realities of what it means to be a woman in our society, on our campus, on a daily basis,” Natale said.

For HerStory, Wheaton women submitted their stories anonymously prior to the event. This gave students the freedom to present difficult stories. At the event, women from the audience volunteered to read the stories aloud, giving a voice to issues that often go unheard. Women shared diverse experiences, both positive and painful, speaking about body image, romantic relationships, sexuality, the trauma and stigma of rape, and sexism in both academics and the workplace.

So many stories were submitted that there wasn’t enough time for all to be shared at the reading, so Sister Circle has compiled an anthology of all the submissions, which will be available at an anthology viewing session on November 21 at 7 p.m. in the Yellow Parlor in Balfour-Hood. Visitors will be able to pick up a free anthology, share ideas in a suggestion box, and meet the members of the Sister Circle executive board.

Sister Circle chair Shereen Velupillai ’14, who took the lead in organizing the HerStory event, says that the groups are already planning their outreach for the spring.

Each group within Sister Circle brings a unique perspective to the table. Renaissance House, a theme house for women of color, promotes awareness of the ways in which race and gender affect the experiences of women of color. Emerson Feminist Perspective House, a theme house for women, promotes dialogue and programming that explores the feminist issues. The Distinguished Women of Color Collective, a campus-wide group, creates community between women of diverse backgrounds. FAW, which is open to all Wheaton students interested in discussing and promoting feminist perspectives, particularly encourages critically examining privileges and systems of oppression within society.

“HerStory was a great reminder that there is much to be gained by working together,” said Hawkins, senior advisor to Sister Circle. “While we are made up of unique groups with varying missions, at the end of our day, our goal is a similar one: to make this campus a safe and welcoming space for all women."—Elizabeth Meyer '14