Smile Politely

Reflecting on Women’s History Month in C-U

It’s Women’s History Month, a month where we celebrate International Women’s Day, and recognize the significant contributions women have made in society: in the workplace, in communities, at the state and national level, and beyond. This women’s history month occurs amid the second anniversary of a pandemic, one that has had a major impact on women’s lives in particular. Women have suffered economically, borne the brunt of added household responsibilities including childcare and supporting online schooling, and they’ve also experienced a rise in domestic violence. A gender pay gap remains, with women earning 84% of what men earned in 2020. Black women earned 63% of what men earned. Women are still very underrepresented in leadership positions across all industries, including political, corporate, and academic leadership. The gap widens in all of those areas for Black and Brown women.

We took a look at how women are faring in Champaign-Urbana, highlighting some ways to support women in our community, this month and beyond. 

Women in public office

For the past several years, both cities have been led by women: Deb Feinen has been mayor of Champaign since 2015, and Diane Marlin has been mayor of Urbana since 2017. Five out of seven Urbana City Council members are women; four are women of color. Five of seven Champaign Unit 4 school board members are women. Urbana District 116’s School Board and the Champaign County Board are evenly represented by men and women. The Champaign City Council currently has two women, but women held the majority prior to the last election. Carol Ammons has represented the 103rd Illinois House District since 2015. It should also be noted, even though they are not elected, both Champaign and Urbana school districts are led by Black women as superintendents. 

With midterm elections happening this year, there is an opportunity to continue to put women in office. Nikki Budinski is vying for the Democratic nomination in IL-13, and you’ll find many others up and down your ballot. Of course, blanket support for women in office is not what we are advocating for. As we’ve discussed before, there are women, particularly white women, who are quite willing to perpetuate systems that harm historically excluded and marginalized people as long as they have the security blanket of white supremacy and patriarchy. We’ve discussed how precarious women’s health and abortion access is, even in Illinois. We urge you to support women and other candidates who want to advocate for policies that benefit women — especially Black and Brown women, queer women, trans women, and immigrant women. Better yet, do your part to put a diversity of women in office.

Women serving our community

Much of the important work happening in our community comes from organizations with women at the helm. The leadership Julie Pryde has shown as director of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has been unwavering through the worst of times. Danielle Chynoweth and her team at Cunningham Township are consistently leading efforts to make sure our most vulnerable citizens are able to meet basic needs. Martha Mills leads the Uniting Pride board, with Nicole Frydman as Director of Operations. Elizabeth Cook is executive director of Courage Connection, and Urbana City Council member Jaya Kolisetty heads up RACES. Mariah Madison, with Buy Black Chambana, has done amazing work promoting Black business owners in our community. Beth Wendling, as executive director of Orphans Treasure Box Bookstore, is providing jobs for women who have experienced poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and addiction. The YWCA of University of Illinois, United Way of Champaign County, and Community Foundation of East Central Illinois all have women at the helm in Andrea Rundell, Sue Grey, and Angie Hatfield Marker, respectively. 

These are all organizations that are not only led by women, but also do work that directly impacts the wellbeing of women in our community. And there are surely more that we’ve missed. Your monetary and volunteer support of these organizations makes a difference.

Women in higher education

The University of Illinois has never had a woman president, but three women have been chancellor since 2001: Nancy Cantor, Phyllis Wise, and Barbara J. Wilson. Pam Lau is about to become president of Parkland College for a retiring Tom Ramage; Ramage was preceded by Zelema Harris, a Black woman and the first woman president of Parkland.

The U of I has many accomplished women in faculty and various leadership positions, but they are still quite underrepresented. In 2020-21, just 27% of full professors were women and 37% were tenure-stream faculty. The percentage of women as postdoctoral fellows has hovered around 30% for the past ten years, and 25% of college deans are women. Women are more represented in campus leadership initiatives such as the Provost Fellows program and Building Pathways for Emerging Leaders, but it’s clear that more needs to happen for those women to hold leadership positions and full professorships. 

Women as business owners

We’ve featured many woman-owned businesses in the “pages” of Smile Politely. We’re fortunate to have these and many more in C-U:

FireDoll Studio, Dandelion, Golden Weather, Pure Being, Art Coop, Blueprint, Chambana Backyard Movies, Beads ‘N Botanicals, Be the Benchmark, Melanin Lighthouse, Karma Trade, Isis Rose Birth and Postpartum Services, Bluestem Hall, Circles, Suzu’s Bakery, San Maru, Walnut Street Tea Company, Neil Street Blues, Fleurish, Stango Cuisine, Page Roasting Company

These directories can also help you seek out specific businesses: LGBTQ+ owned (and/or affirming), Black owned, Woman owned, Immigrant owned.

Women in athletics and arts

Seek out women’s sporting events. In the spring you can attend U of I women’s gymnastics, U of I and Parkland softball, and U of I women’s tennis. Boneyard Creek Arts Festival is in just another week or so; event organizer 40 North is a woman-run non profit. Kim Curtis created the signature image, and there are many more women artists participating. 

If you want to dabble in the arts yourself, check out Urbana Dance Company, a woman-owned business offering a variety of weekly dance classes and special events. 

As we stated last month, these sorts of lists and months of recognition are a starting point. We can all be working year round to chip away at patriarchal institutions that have excluded women, and work to reimagine them as inclusive and equitable spaces. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top photo from CUPHD Facebook page.

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