By Caitlyn Keeve
As the only women’s university in Los Angeles, and as our Unstoppable mission suggests, we are a community that persists towards the line of equality. In the past year, a number of Centers have been introduced with that same underlying spirit of daring advocacy. The Center for the Advancement of Women is a welcome addition to our campus-wide commitment to extend the conversation surrounding gender parity and activism. Dr. Emerald Archer, the Center Director, sees it as the first “outward and public-facing” space for both faculty and students at Mount Saint Mary’s University. In short, all the events and unique programming hosted by the Center for the Advancement of Women are meant to be both interactive and thought-provoking for students, faculty, staff, alumnae and community members.
Although the message of empowerment is never far away from any one office or classroom, so far in her first year, Dr. Archer has worked with faculty and staff to produce our major gender equity initiatives on campus. Leadership, Research and Advocacy are the three service pillars that support its mission to connect community voices with solutions and dialogue surrounding women’s issues. To codify the initiatives, The Women’s Leadership Conference, the Report on the Status of Women and Girlsä and Ready to Run are the three major programs that define and carry out the purpose of the Center, which is to celebrate diversity in thought and discipline, when approaching matters that affect women and girls everywhere. As evidenced by the success of this year’s Women’s Leadership Conference in September, which brought together hundreds of professional women across Southern California, the theme of resilience reminded students in attendance of the incredible support system that extends beyond the halls of our school.
In the context of our far-reaching influence as a liberal arts university, and accentuated by our many public programs, Dr. Archer emphasized that in the midst developing many outside partnerships, “the Center will always have a strong internal presence.” The Center is for, by, and about the Mount Saint Mary’s community. This year, in the weeks leading up to our largest research release event, an internal launch for students who may not be able to attend The Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Californiaä, has invited all majors to engage in the insights that the Report provides.
“I want students to feel like they can use this data– that they own this data. The Center acts as a resource for students, in that if they’re interested in research they can come here. If they’re interested in how they can integrate themselves more fully into our programs, they can come here. All of what we do is about giving students the tools to go out and change their own communities whether it’s here at Mount Saint Mary’s or back home.”
Research is the second pillar of the Center, and as it grows, students can explore funded projects with faculty that improves our understanding of gender equity through an interdisciplinary lens. Spotlighting Women in the Workforce, this year’s theme explores the influence of culture and education on the lives of global changemakers in every sector. With data and critical analysis that is currently being used to inform policy, local legislation, and most importantly individual decision making, it is clear that student perspectives are needed in this new age of advancement.
When asked about her personal journey towards women’s empowerment, Dr. Archer shared a story from her own undergraduate experience. “One moment I remember vividly was when I was assigned to be an RA for the only all women’s dorm on my campus. This was a very formative year because at the time it wasn’t as popular a place to live, but when I got there I had the best time of my life. There was a real sisterhood in that community. It was a safe space where women could talk about everything from favorite beauty products, to how to deal with sexual harassment and assault on campus. It was at that point where I thought ‘I can advocate for women and I can do it in a really meaningful way,” From a bachelor’s degree in biology to a Ph.D. in political science, her path as student, a researcher, an author and now Center Director has shaped her approach to activism and leadership.
As a community, our familiarity with the strength of a woman can be traced back to our deeply seated tradition of service established by the CSJ. Dr. Archer’s unique background first launched in the sciences then refined in political theory, involved the exploration of women’s experiences in militarized zones. Her research and teaching positions have influenced her work as an advocate for women in underrepresented communities across the country.
“In graduate school, I was always thinking about how women self-select into nontraditional roles like the military, the obstacles they faced and how to knock them down. In a lot of ways, that’s what I’m doing here at the Center. I’m looking at really pervasive issues that women face whether it’s occupational sex segregation or cumulative disadvantage; if I can shine a light on some of those issues then we can find solutions to remediate them.”
As the world continues to spin toward a more inclusive arena for first-generation college students, for women in positions of power and for men as allies in the fight for equality, it is increasingly important for young voices to be visible when discussing strategies to protect long-term fairness. Because of the diverse nature of leadership and advocacy, the Center’s third major event, Ready to Run, embraces political and public service as valid avenues for women of all ages who want to effect positive change. Through a day of nonpartisan campaign training in April, both Democrats and Republicans can participate in sessions that demystify the process of running for elected or appointed office.
By partnering with local businesses, influential women speakers, and the mayor’s office, this new Center will introduce students to the many faces of success that can act as valuable connections to real-world opportunities. Put Angelinas on the Map is the newest of these opportunities for students to engage in meaningful and lasting work that benefits the whole of Los Angeles. In this hacker-style workshop our Mount community is encouraged to share their most inspirational heroines with Mayor Garcetti, whose team will honor their legacy with landmarks, streets and buildings to be named after them. In a true celebration of women’s achievements, this event allows diverse student voices to indisputably be memorialized in history. Dr. Archer, a product of co-educational institutions, so far, has championed a hub for intellectual innovation around gender parity because she has seen how necessary it is for every city and every university.
“Particularly here, where there is a deep history with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, there’s a curriculum guided by civic education and leadership. The Center is the culmination of that– a model for how we do research around gender equity and how it can impact the community in a real way.” The Mount, with its 93 year legacy of undaunted alumni and award-winning professors, has changed so many lives simply because at its core, our learning is collaborative. Having teachers and students learn from each other is the defining element that catapults critical research into a brilliant piece of academic work that the Center for the Advancement of Women promises to publish in its inaugural anthology entitled Collectif and on future platforms for all to see. As the director, Dr. Archer has made it her personal mission to celebrate unique and transformative ideas that benefit our university, our city, and our world. “The ideas that work are the ones that students and faculty are interested in. As we grow, every quarter I want the Center to put out original research, where the entirety of the Mount community can convene and talk about how it affects us.”
Essentially, the birth of this new Center has escorted in a call for bright ideas that will elevate every student’s college experience, well beyond the four walls of a classroom. Through data-driven programming and an audience with boundless energy for research, leadership, and women’s advocacy Dr. Archer’s contributions are not only welcomed but anticipated to further the advancement of women at MSMU.
“Everything about my upbringing has centered around empowering women, so here I am, hopefully, doing just that.”