Women supporting women: New group gives female students space to talk about gender

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Women supporting women: New group gives female students space to talk about gender

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Katelyn Pfaff, a DePaul alumna, was facilitating a roundtable discussion in February on conflict and group work when a young woman from Russia told her that, for her first group project at DePaul, she wasn’t allowed to participate because she is a woman.

Pfaff found this heartbreaking. When the other women around the table nodded their heads in agreement, she knew she had to do something.  After months of research and finding there wasn’t a club for international women, she started the DePaul Global Women’s Collaborative to give women from various countries a space to talk about their identities as women or female-identifying and how that overlaps with expectations or barriers they face in the world.

The collaborative had its first meeting Friday, April 21. The group was small — around 10 people — but that did not limit the discussion the women had Friday afternoon over snacks and light refreshments. Beyond talking about being a woman or being female-identifying, the group aims to give international students a support group of their peers to help them navigate through talking about an often murky topic.

“We started with just two hour and a half long events for the quarter,” Pfaff said. “This is for the students. We’re going to test the waters (and talk about) what do you need, what do you want to talk about, what could this group do for you and go from there.”

The group was facilitated by Kylie Allen, Susie Mendez and Kate Kownacki who all work for the University Center for Writing-based Learning. The collaborative is part of the center’s group programming focused on helping international students.

Those present represented a variety of cultures and countries, including India and China. The conversation meandered from topic to topic, going from the topic of identities to what those identities mean. This facet of the discussion — the possibility for reflection among peers — is one reason why some in attendance showed up.

“I was very interested in talking about women and their roles,” Xiaoyi Wang, an accounting student, said. “I’ve never attended a group focused on this so I wanted to learn and talk about it.”

The goal for the group is to expand and continue talking about the intersection of gender with other identities as well as the impact of gender on day-to-day life.

“(I hope this can become) first and foremost a support group for one another,” Pfaff said, referencing the story of the Russian student whose experience was the impetus for the group. “I think it’s pretty tough — gender is an incredibly important topic and is incredibly important to people throughout the country and it plays a significant role in people’s lives, but also a different role depending on your culture. Being able to come together and talk about that and support one another is something, I think, I didn’t see happening before and something I hope to see happen.”

Allen, one of the facilitators who led the group discussion, said she hoped conversations like the one they had Friday can continue in the time between this meeting and their next one in May.

“I hope we can continue growing together as peers and as women and hopefully we can continue to host discussions,” Allen said. “Something we kept talking about today were the expectations that are put on women, whether it’s the barriers your family may put on you or the expectations that you internalize and put on yourself. So, just trying to navigate and break down those ideas or figure out which ones we want to embrace can help us have a better idea of what it means to be a woman.”