Women's Empowerment Conference Explores Gender Roles in Society


School News

The complex topic of gender roles in society was examined during the second annual Walsh University Women’s Empowerment (WE) Conference on Saturday, November 14.

Titled "Gender in Today’s World: Women and Men’s Roles, Norms, and Unspoken Challenges in the 21st Century," more than 160 guests were in attendance at the event which featured student presentations, roundtable discussions and a keynote address from Summit County Magistrate Esther Thomas.

Organized by the Walsh Women’s Empowerment Initiative, the symposium expanded upon the inaugural March 2015 conference theme of "Empowering Women Leaders."

"In order to address gender equality for women in any real way, it is equally important to address the societal pressures that influence masculinity and men’s lives in an evolving society," said Associate Professor of English and event organizer Amanda Gradisek, Ph.D.  "Rather than seeing 'gender’ as exclusively a women’s issue, this event encourages a more holistic approach to the complex network of behaviors that influence all of our lives."

Presentations addressed the subtle challenges and norms that influence both women’s and men’s lives today and asked questions about the unspoken challenges still ahead for tomorrow’s female leaders and the men who work alongside them.

"Building off of last year’s success, we hope to continue encouraging students to ask questions about the power structures and obstacles to gender equality in today’s world, while simultaneously exposing them to community leaders who can provide models for success that may inspire them to think outside of the proverbial box," said Dr. Gradisek.

Facilitated by faculty and staff members, the event included roundtable sessions with more than 25 community and business leaders such as Habitat for Humanity CEO Rochelle Sibbio, Massillon Museum Executive Director Alexandra Nicholis Coon, PNC Bank Vice President and Senior Marketing Manager Sarah Richards and The Honorable Taryn L. Heath, Stark County Court of Common Pleas. Roundtable topics included women in the professional realm, women in contemporary society, masculinity in contemporary society, women in the arts, women in the family, and women and spirituality.

More than 32 Walsh students various majors and divisions presented their original research on topics such as Literary and Historical Perspectives on Gender, Mixed Media and Gender Identity and Technologies of Gender.

Keynote SpeakerMagistrate Esther Thomas spoke on the topic of "Disrupting Gravity and Future Karate" during the keynote luncheon.

"All phases of human life - public and private areas - are affected by gravity. Work, home, school, jobs, money, lack of money, cars. Gravity is in everything. So what are we to do with gravity and how are we to disrupt gravity?" said Magistrate Thomas during her keynote address. "Isn't it interesting that yes, we're all under pressure, we're all under gravity, but what is to be lost or gained by acknowledging the gravity of the situation of someone else? It costs nothing, it provides human comfort, and it acknowledges the experience of someone else. That's a nice skill to have." 

Magistrate Thomas became the first African American Attorney to clerk at Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. She served a Staff Attorney at the State of Ohio Legislative Service Commission and also became the first African American to serve as Legal Counsel for the Office of Collective Bargaining. In her current position, she presides over child abuse and neglect cases, conducts trials, adjudications, dispositions, rules on evidentiary matters, and writes magistrate's decisions and orders. She has also worked to develop the Family Reunification through Recovery Court docket, a weekly Court for parents with substance abuse issues seeking sobriety and reunification with their children.