SVSU hosted its fifth annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon on Thursday, March 14, at noon in the Curtiss Banquet Rooms.
The event was sponsored by Student Life, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, the Military Student Affairs Office and Residential Life.
Raegan Schultz, a Student Life student worker, gave the introductory remarks.
“In 1987, the U.S. Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month,” she said. “This creates a special opportunity in our schools, our workplaces and our communities to celebrate the often-overlooked achievements of American women.”
Schultz also recognized attendees who hold leadership positions at SVSU, including Mamie Thorns, the special assistant to the President for Diversity Programs; Judith Ruland, the dean of the College of Health and Human Services; and Deborah Huntley, the Provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.
Gail Harris, the first African American female Navy captain, was scheduled as the keynote speaker but was unable to attend because of flight delays.
Instead, Huntley acted as the keynote speaker for the luncheon. She reflected on the birthday of her great aunt, who was born in December 1918, and the progress women have made since her great aunt turned 100 years old.
“In 1918, women couldn’t vote,” she said. “The idea of a woman leading a major company, being governor of a state or a leader of a nation, those would have been considered patently absurd ideas. Women in those days have very little control, very little choice and very little influence.”
Huntley explained that this has changed, citing several companies who that female CEOs, including GM, IBM, Pepsi and more.
She also explained that it was rare in 1984, the year she received her doctorate in chemistry, for women to be in the sciences.
“It used to joke that I was the only pantyhose in a room full on pinstripe suits,” Huntley said. “And that was true, but now women are about half of all chemistry graduates. In fact, in biology, there are more women graduating than men.”
When deciding to go to college, Huntley said that many family members discouraged her.
“When I went off to college, my brother informed me that women should never have leadership roles because we’re too emotional and are incapable of making rational decisions one week out of every month,” she said.
Huntley’s sister warned her that she would have to choose between college or a family.
“My sister said, ‘It is OK to go to college, but if you go to college, you’re going to have to drop everything because your husband’s needs come before your own,” Huntley said. “And if you have kids, you’re going to have to quit working,’”
Huntley was fortunate that her siblings were both incorrect.
“I assure you, I am rational and can make decisions any week of any month,” she said. “I did, in fact, get married, and I did have kids, and I did keep my career because that was an option that was beginning to be available in my generation.”
Although women still face challenges, Huntley said she is thankful for the progress that her great aunt was able to see before she passed away.
“Think about how happy (my aunt) was to think that her daughters and her granddaughters were able to have opportunities that were simply unheard of in her generation,” she said.
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