SAN MARCOS — They’d come a long way, baby, and it was time to celebrate. Fifteen of Palomar College’s clubs and four vendors came together in front of the student union to honor the role of women in history, from Clara Barton to Sandra Day O’ Connor, March 19.
Purple and white balloons, recalling the colors of the 1920s suffrage movement, flew from every table. Alongside were balloons of pink, the modern color of breast cancer awareness. The Women’s Studies department contributed posters and displays.
“Rosie the Riveter is one of our key symbols because she represents how women stepped in and took over and helped America be able to keep and sustain itself,” Jessica Baker, event organizer and student senator, said.
Each of the participating clubs put their own spin on women’s history. The pre-med club focused on nursing and medicine. The brand new law club emphasized female judges. Palomar’s Black Student Union had double cause for celebration with the recent elevation of an African American to first lady.
“I definitely think we’re better than we’ve ever been because so many African American women are in high positions — doctors, lawyers, senators,” Alexis Brown said. “We’ve come from being way at the bottom.”
After a performance of the national anthem by the Palomar Women’s Chorus, invited guests spoke on the progress of women’s rights and equality in society. There was plenty of good news, but also room for improvement.
Palomar Board Trustee Nancy Chadwick was happy to report that 56 percent of America’s undergraduate students are women. Moreover, 59 percent of the graduate students are women. By comparison, women make up 52 percent of the overall population.
“When I was in college in the ‘50s, there were 1.6 man students to every woman,” Chadwick said. “Since the 1970s, the enrollment for women has absolutely soared. It’s such good news.” She pointed out that women enroll in curricula across the board, including science, law and engineering.
Academic success has not translated into equal representation in all arenas, however. For instance, Chadwick reported, women have reached a plateau in the arena of politics. Only 17 percent of the nation’s congresspersons, 14 percent of the state governors, 22 percent of state legislators and 17 percent of city mayors are women.
Chadwick said she and her colleagues had always believed that equality in education and employment would necessarily lead to more women in government, but that the process was going much slower than expected.
“One of the concerns that a lot of people have is that maybe we’re not preparing candidates in a way that makes them more viable,” she said. Chadwick said she thought campaign groups should not just support female candidates but also more actively look for new candidates.
There is a similar lack of female leaders in the military. World War II allowed thousands of women to enlist for the first time, and the numbers have only risen since then. Fifty thousand women have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Palomar Veteran’s Services Advisor Katherine Khaskin said. Women make up 20 percent of America’s enlisted soldiers and junior officers.
That percentage does not hold for higher ranks. Khaskin attributed that largely to the fact that women are barred from combat, though they are often exposed to it.
“Combat action serves as a key point to promotion in high-ranking officers,” she said.
Khaskin said she believed in baby steps, and hoped events like Palomar’s would empower women to continue to push for rights. Chadwick similarly applauded Baker and her team.
“It’s wonderful to see these types of programs,” Chadwick said. “When women become aware of what’s going on, they have strength, they have the ability to put together an incredible way of approaching things and most of all, they are highly effective.”
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