Seton Hall University hosts annual Conference on Women and Gender

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Photos Courtesy of Ashley Wilson
From left are Karen Gevirtz, Vanessa May, Rifat Salam and Leslie Bunnage.
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From left are Angela Weisl, Miranda Hajduk, Caroline Fernandez, Noora Badwan and Toni-Anne Fajardo.
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Bernadette Wilkowski

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — More than 260 scholars and advocates gathered for the Seton Hall University Conference on Women and Gender on Feb. 12. Sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies Program, the event featured breakout sessions with expert panels and a keynote address by sociologist Rifat Salam. An awards luncheon honored the winners of college and high school essay contests as well as Seton Hall University’s 2016 Woman of the Year.

The Office of the Provost’s Woman of the Year award recognizes and honors “outstanding leaders at Seton Hall who have made significant contributions to the success of women at the University.” Bernadette Wilkowski, academic specialist for the Educational Opportunity Program’s Center for Learning, Instruction and Assessment, was presented the award by Joan Guetti, senior associate provost, for her motivational efforts promoting student engagement and success within the classroom and beyond for the past 30 years.

“I am incredibly humbled to have received this prestigious award,” Wilkowski, a resident of Roselle, said. “As a professional woman, I try to inspire, challenge and empower young women at Seton Hall with kindness and compassion, also conveying a definite set of values. I learned how important it is to talk and listen to young women and young men, showing interest in their dreams, goals and achievements. My precious Catholic faith keeps me centered, and I hope that I will be blessed to continue working in this special ‘vineyard’ called Seton Hall University.”

The Elizabeth Ann Seton Center for Women’s Studies writing prize was awarded to Toni-Anne Fajardo of Secaucus, an accounting major with minors in English and fine arts. Fajardo presented her essay, “The Marine Going Beyond the Binary: Lucy Brewer’s Subversion of Gendered Behaviors,” at a panel session moderated by English professor Angela Weisl. Joining them were students who received honorable mention, including Noora Badwan of Wayne, a senior English honors major and history minor, who shared her essay, “Subversive Storytelling: ‘Tricksters’ Attacking Misogyny through ‘Tales’ in Chaucer and the ‘Arabian Nights’”; Caroline Fernandez of Verona, a senior secondary education and English major, who read her essay, “Attachment and Motherhood in ‘The Turn of the Screw’”; and Miranda Hajduk of Belvidere, a senior English honors and creative writing double major, who presented her essay, “’Peyntyng Leones’: The Generic Validation of Female Experience and the Subversion of the Antifeminist Satire.”

The high school essay prize was presented by Mary Balkun, professor and chairwoman of the Department of English, to Aeva Karlsrud of Frenchtown, a junior at Delaware Valley Regional High School. Karlsrud read her essay, “Art Activist, Anonymous: The Woman Who Changed the Art World.” Students receiving honorable mention included Sara Portela of Livingston, a junior at Livingston High School, who wrote “A Declaration of Independence”; Rana Hussein of Mount Laurel, a sophomore at Lenape High School, who wrote “Unapologetically, Me”; and Matt Quinn of Livingston, a Livingston High School student, who wrote “The Thinker.”

The conference concluded with Salam’s keynote address, made possible by Leslie Bunnage, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. Salam, associate professor of sociology and deputy chairwoman of the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice at City University of New York, discussed “Negotiating Identity, Navigating Divides and Building Bridges: South Asian Women in Millennial America” to a full audience.

“This was so incredible. I very rarely get to speak to a mixed audience. It’s usually graduate students and other academics. It was really stimulating to be in an audience that’s so diverse,” Salam said in the release. “I think the conference showed that academics isn’t some dry thing. With students, you have an opportunity to reach a broader understanding. I hope from my talk (on South Asian women), that my story resonated with the students and that they received an understanding of a different group of people that they may not know much about.”

The annual event was organized by Karen Gevirtz, associate professor of English, and Vanessa May, associate professor of history.

“We hope the conference supported attendees in their journey of servant leadership and social justice, encouraged them to embrace diversity and left them with excitement in the possibilities to make a difference,” Gevirtz said in the release. “We are absolutely thrilled about the conference’s growth over the past three years and can’t wait to see what next year will bring.”