Women celebrate a ‘Day of Empowerment’

By Samantha Aman

(Left to right) Panelists Jen Wendling-Foulke, Kathy Mickells, and Najah Straford discuss opportunities for women in the skilled trades at the “Day of Empowerment” event. Photo by Samantha Aman

Several successful women delivered presentations on self-empowerment, women’s rights, and diversity in the workplace and beyond during DCCC’s “Day of Empowerment” at Marple campus on Oct. 4.

The all-day event, which “focused on empowering women and the community,” was hosted by Campus Life, the College-Wide Reading Committee, the Institutional Diversity Committee and Student Employment Services.

Dr. Jennifer Gunsaullus, sociologist and author of “From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women,” delivered the keynote speech, “Finding Your Authentic Voice,” in which she discussed how practicing mindfulness and becoming more aware of physical reactions can help people, especially women, in both their personal relationships and their careers.

“I want you to be able to reap the potential rewards of being able to choose a new path in life,” Gunsaullus told the audience.

Another highlight of the event was a presentation by Ariell Johnson, founder and owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Johnson is the first black woman to own a comic bookstore on the East Coast.

Students, faculty and guests gather on Marple campus to attend the various events offered at DCCC’s “Day of Empowerment.” Photo by Samantha Aman

“We wanted Amalgam to be a place where everybody feels welcome,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy to say that we’ve managed to do that. When you come into Amalgam’s space, so many kinds of people are represented.”

Molly Hayward, co-founder and chief brand officer of Cora, a company which produces sustainable period care products, also spoke at the event.

Packets containing various Cora product samples were offered free of charge to students outside the event and in women’s restrooms around the campus.

The event also included a panel discussion on women in the trades, featuring DCCC professors Jen Wendling-Foulke and Kathy Mickells and automotive technology student Najah Straford.

The panelists discussed their experience in the trades, discrimination in the workplace, and opportunities available to women in the skilled trades.

Amy Amtrin, director of technical education for Workforce Development and Community Education at DCCC, moderated the discussion and joined the panelists in encouraging students who are hesitant to consider the trades to stop by for a tour of the Advanced Technology Center at Marple campus or to try out an introductory-level course.

“I always say in intro-level classes, all you’re going to learn is life skills,” Amtrin said. “There’s nothing to lose.”

The “Day of Empowerment” kicked off with Gunsaullus’ keynote presentation, delivered to a standing-room only crowd of students, professors, and guests.

Gunsaullus said she hoped her presentation would help all the attendees, especially the women in the audience, to feel more in control in their lives.

“I’m hoping that when you go home today, you’re able to realize that there’s places that you can make choices that you didn’t even know you had,” Gunsaullus said. “Because to me, the epitome of empowerment is choice.”

Dr. Jennifer Gunsaullus encourages attendees to “dive into discomfort” at the “Day of Empowerment.” Photo by Samantha Aman

But Gunsaullus admitted that there are many things people don’t have control over, including discrimination and prejudice.

“It’s not that easy,” she said. “We’re not talking about empowerment in a vacuum.”

Still, Gunsaullus argued that individuals do have a choice in how they internalize and respond to these outside pressures.

The author said that in response to negative experiences, rather than retreating, lashing out, or resorting to distractions, people should “pause and create space” for their feelings.

Gunsaullus then introduced attendees to the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and sensations, which she called the “triangle of awareness.” She also encouraged paying particular attention to the bodily sensations that occur during negative experiences.

“Our body has so much wisdom that it gives us,” Gunsaullus said. “And often that wisdom is really uncomfortable.”

Next, Gunsaullus guided the audience through a mindfulness exercise, encouraging everyone to close their eyes, relax, and focus on a recent negative experience.

“What’s it feel like to be present in your body in this moment right now?” Gunsaullus asked as she led the exercise. “Identify it, label it, observe it, and don’t judge yourself for it.”

Gunsaullus acknowledged that focusing on negative emotions in this way was a difficult and uncomfortable process.

“I am asking you literally to dive into discomfort,” she said. “That is a scary place to go. That takes a lot of courage to do; it’s a blind leap in some ways. This is not a path for the faint-hearted.”

But Gunsaullus insisted that the process was worth it, offering herself and others she had taught to practice mindfulness as examples of its success.

“They start to find their authentic voice, their empowerment, and they’re so much happier in all of their relationships,” she emphasized.

Gunsaullus ended her presentation with a message to the audience: “You have more courage than you think you do. You are stronger than you think you are. How we access that is through moving towards this type of discomfort.”

Gunsaullus’ presentation was well received by students in the audience, including nursing major Carolyn Dolan, who purchased Gunsaullus’ book on her way into the event.

“I think it’s so wonderful that our school is offering talks like this,” Dolan said. “Today, especially in college, I feel like a lot of people’s mentality is that they have to just have sex and have fun, but there’s a loss of the emotions behind it. But I want a real connection with someone, so this [event] is perfect.”

Dr. Jennifer Gunsaullus offers free samples of Pink Lubricant to attendees at DCCC’s “Day of Empowerment.” Photo by Samantha Aman

The next event was a discussion between Hayward and director of paralegal studies Keeley Mitchell that touched on women’s empowerment, feminist social issues, and the idea of a modern-day “war on women.”

Hayward discussed the feminist outreach Cora engages in, including distributing period care products in countries like Kenya and India, where women have limited access to the supplies. The company also campaigns against policies that limit women’s access to feminine hygiene products in the U.S., such as the taxes levied on the products in most states.

“I thought, ‘There are millions of girls all over the world who have issues accessing period care, and there are also probably millions of women like me who would be willing to give a small amount every month to make sure that these girls have what they needed,’” Hayward said.

“I realized there was an opportunity here in the U.S. to create a brand that reflects the values of the modern woman, including everything from great design and healthy ingredients to sustainability and social impact.”

Yet Hayward admitted she doesn’t like to use the term “empowerment” when describing women.

“From my perspective, we believe that women are naturally powerful,” Hayward explained. “The idea of empowerment is someone using their power to give you power. We are not anti-empowerment, but we want to recognize that there is an innate power in you that does not need to be transferred from somewhere else. It is there to be uncovered.”

Another highlight of the “Day of Empowerment” was the presentation from Johnson, the self-described “owner, operator, and head nerd-in-charge” of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse in Kensington.

“That’s my official title,” Johnson quipped as she began her speech, which focused on her history with comics and comic bookstores and why diversity in the genre is important.

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse owner Ariell Johnson shows examples of diversity in comic books at the “Day of Empowerment” event held on Marple campus Oct. 4. Photo by Samantha Aman

According to Johnson, her love for comics can be traced directly to her love for Storm, an “X-Men” character who was the first black female character Johnson remembers encountering on the TV shows she watched as a kid.

“Storm is my anchor to this world,” Johnson said. “It would have been very easy for me to grow out of comics because I never saw myself [in them]. Before I met Storm, I always felt like I was watching other people’s adventures.”

Erica Reeves, DCCC’s co-chair of Women’s Empowerment Initiative, who helped organize the event, said she was encouraged by the success of the “Day of Empowerment” and wants to turn the event into an annual conference at the college. She said that she hopes students attending the event gained a new sense of perspective.

“Even if you learned just one thing that you can take away and think about a little bit differently, or use to reframe a thought, a belief, or an experience in a new way,” Reeves said. “I hope that’s the biggest takeaway, because I think it could really benefit students.”

Contact Samantha Aman at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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