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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Diverse and intentional advocacy

Women affirm their roles in public service

Adult Student Life and the Office of Inclusion and Diversity celebrated Women’s History Month at Saint Joseph’s University with a panel discussion on women in public service on March 29.

The panel “Women and Public Service” included perspectives from: Colleen Kelly Howard executive director for the non-profit Girls on the Run Philadelphia; Nina Ahmad, Ph.D., Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement of Philadelphia; Becki Scola, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the political science department; State Representative Morgan Cephas (D-PA); and Natasha J. Andrews, director of programming and community engagement at Girls Incorporated of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

Kendra O’Donnell, Adult Student Life graduate assistant, moderated the panel and fielded questions about their experience with politics and public service as women and how they continue to serve their respective communities.

Cephas, a West Philadelphia resident since childhood, noticed how her community remained the same after graduating college.

“[It] was in the same exact position,” Cephas said. “We still had crime issues. We still had unemployment. We still had education issues.”

Andrews noticed early on in her career that there were a lot of individuals that were making important decisions on the lives of urban girls who did not understand their experiences.

“There were people that didn’t really understand the community that we’re advocating,” Andrews said. “When someone who doesn’t understand or lacks cultural competence is making a decision to remove a child from a home, I need to be tha

Women on the panel discuss public service and impacts on the community (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

t advocate, making sure that I made a responsible decision and then know what happens next.”

Ahmad noticed how important the impression a woman makes when she enters a room and speaks her mind.

“If you are going to be engaged and appreciated you have to put yourself out there,” Ahmad said. “When someone sees you for the first time, you don’t know what they’re thinking. If you want to be in charge of that vision of what people have of you, you can’t leave it all to the other person.”

Cephas eventually realized that she still wasn’t allowed in the same conversations as her male coworkers.

“You’re not included in every room,” Cephas said. “You’re not invited to the cigar room where conversations are had and deals are made. A mentor told me, ‘If women are not at the table, we’re on the menu.’ There are so many decisions being made

for our day-to-day lives that, if we’re not in that conversation, we will be affected.”

Kayla Walker, ’16, program coordinator for Women’s Center and LGBTQIA+ programs, asked the panel a question about balancing their different identities and advocating for different groups with whom they identify. Walker noted the theme of intersectionality that the St. Joe’s Women’s History Month programming brought attention towards.

“When you’re making policy, you think about all of those things,” Ahmad said. “Not just think that this will be helpful for women but think about who else is in that space. It’s worth to take the time to sit back and have voices that have one or more of those identities and bring them to the table.”

On the last day of March and of Women’s History Month, the Philadelphia Commission for Women held its inaugural “State of Women and Girls in Philadelphia” summit to provide a snapshot of the diversity of women in the city and to assess future progress.

Ahmad also brought up the Philadelphia Commission for Women’s work to establish an advisory body to the mayor and city council that will be vocal about the issues that women face.

“We’re trying to make sure that they’re a body of women who are not commissioners, who are everywhere from the boardroom to the streets,” Ahmad said. “We want those voices.”

Scola emphasized not just the intellectual understanding of intersectionality but also the impulse for activism that accompanies it.

“It requires it almost. It expects it,” Scola said. “You know now, go do something. Be mindful of who you’re reaching out to and which communities you’re engaging. It depends on whose voice [you’re] presenting [on behalf of] and making sure everyone is thinking about students or people on campus that just aren’t necessarily thought of.”

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