2018: Year of Women

Community members represent national culture shift

CNN declared that 2018 will be the Year of Women. Though it may seem presumptuous to designate a year’s theme as early as January, The Hullabaloo wants to jump on board to emphasize the strides being made by women in the Tulane and New Orleans communities. Women will continue to break through glass ceilings, innovate and inspire future generations with their talent and brilliance in the coming year, and some of that change began in New Orleans.

This year does not mark the beginning of women’s empowerment, but signifies one milestone of the movement. This era cannot be boiled down to a single year or headline. Instead, this article seeks to highlight the women who will continue to carry on the legacy of female resilience in 2018 and the years to come. 

LaToya Cantrell

In the United States, women hold less than one-fifth of Congressional seats and exactly one-fifth of mayoral positions in 100 of the country’s largest cities. Women of color hold 7.1 percent of seats in Congress and eight of these mayorships.

For Latoya Cantrell, an African-American woman, her mayoral win seemed against all odds.

Cantrell was elected last November as New Orleans’ first female mayor in a run-off election against Desiree Charbonnet. The Los Angeles native ran on a platform of job creation, infrastructure improvement and women empowerment.

Cantrell attributes her historic win to the activism and resistance of women, particularly in the 2017 Women’s March.

“Since we were here a year ago, you all made it possible that — after 300 years — the city of New Orleans elected its first woman mayor,” Cantrell said last week at the 2018 New Orleans Women’s March.

Cantrell is not the only one to credit the recent surge in women’s resistance to a new political moment. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 390 women are likely to run for the United States House of Representatives and 49 for the Senate. This would be a record-breaking number of female candidates.

For students, the groundbreaking result of Cantrell’s election is not lost. Sarah Jones, a sophomore who volunteered for the mayor-elect, said she felt herself getting emotional at the campaign’s watch party as Cantrell’s mother delivered a speech.

“Seeing her mom give that speech, it was inspiration because … most parents do not live to see their kids make history like that,” Jones said. “That was a beautiful thing to witness and see LaToya Cantrell making history for this remarkable city.”

Cantrell moved to New Orleans in 1990 and gained prominence as the President of the Broadmoor Improvement Association. She organized other members of the community to oppose a post-Katrina plan to turn the Broadmoor Neighborhood into green space. She was later elected to the New Orleans City Council in 2012.

The city’s first female mayor represents a changing future for many students and New Orleans residents.

“She gave me hope that day,” Jones said. “When you haven’t seen that done, especially after being knocked down in 2016 … seeing LaToya Cantrell on the stage that night was like … I have a reason to fight again.”

Courtesy of Kyle McIntyre
Sarah Jones and other Tulane students who volunteered for Cantrell’s campaign pose with the mayor-elect.

Jesmyn Ward

Time Magazine published an article saying Jesmyn Ward may be the next William Faulkner. This is not a designation the magazine takes lightly.

The Mississippi-born writer and Tulane Creative Writing professor won her second National Book Award for Fiction on Nov. 15, 2017. She is the only woman to win the award twice.

“So many incredible, powerful women writers have come before me, writers whose writing I love and am deeply affected by,” Ward said. “So I’m deeply honored to be the first to gain this distinction, and I hope I do all my foremothers proud.”

She won for her novel, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” a deeply personal narrative about a family struggling with the ghosts of its past who set out on the roads of rural Mississippi. In the same year Ward released the critically acclaimed novel, she was chosen as a MacArthur Genius fellow and awarded $625,000 to explore her creative pursuits and also placed on President Obama’s list of favorites for 2017.

“Jesmyn Ward is one of the most compelling American novelists writing today,” Chair of the English Department Michael Kuczynski said. “To have such a major literary talent on our faculty changes the entire campus dynamic. The creative energy that Jesmyn brings to her work is inspirational and transformative.”

“I hope my success serves as an example that with persistence, hard work and luck, they too can succeed.” -Jesmyn Ward

Ward began teaching at Tulane in 2014 as the Paul and Debra Gibbons Professor of Creative Writing and exemplifies the School of Liberal Arts’ dedication to place-based learning with universal significance.

Claire Davenport, a senior who is pursuing creative writing and took Ward’s class two years ago found her to be an inspirational model of success. Davenport and Ward both stressed the importance of having voices of underrepresented groups in literature.

“When a reader reads a book written by a person unlike them or about people who are unlike them, whether the writer or the characters differ because of gender or sexual orientation or color or disability or class, it engenders empathy in the reader for those very different people,” Ward said.

“Usually, this empathy makes the life of the other more real, more present, and in the best circumstances, can change the way the reader thinks about the other. That’s really important.”

Ward will be returning to the English Department for the 2018-19 academic year, following a two-year sabbatical. She believes she can continue to empower and inspire through faculty mentorship and teaching.

“I’m sure [Tulane’s female students] already know that they live in a world where they are undervalued and underpaid, where they have to work twice as hard for recognition and equality,” Ward said. “But I hope my success serves as an example that with persistence, hard work and luck, they too can succeed.”

Praveena Fernes

When asked whom they saw as influential and badass women via a Facebook post, Tulane community members were quick to identify Tulane senior Praveena Fernes. Her nomination, coupled with an impressive resume, has earned her a spot in this feature outlining influential women in the Tulane community.

Fernes is a public health major who has dedicated much of her life to engaging with and serving in the communities around her.

When she was 16, Fernes was awarded a $45,000 grant to create a campaign for youth that worked toward preventing domestic violence. Fernes spearheaded the “You Are Stronger Than You Think” t-shirt campaign that initiated a conversation about promoting healthy relationships for thousands of local Bay Area students.

Courtesy of Praveena Fernes
Senior Praveena Fernes studied abroad in Northeast Thailand where she learned about indigenous injustices and anti-mining grassroots organizations in Thailand

Following the campaign, Fernes continues to pursue her work in public health, community engagement and fighting gender-based violence on Tulane’s campus. She serves as the co-president of the Sexual Agression Peer Hotline and Education student organization and is a Community Engagement Advocate at the Center for Public Service.

“I’m able to be that person who gets to poke holes in people’s perspectives and think and shift their paradigm, and that’s such an honor,” Fernes said.

She also spent time in Northeast Thailand during the past spring semester where she learned from villagers fighting great social and environmental injustices.

“Though it was disturbing to learn about years of man-made trauma, it was powerful to meet resilient leaders and help share their stories through photojournalism for a local news source,” Fernes said.

As Fernes rises as a professional in her field and a leader among many, she acknowledges the many influential people in her life from whom she has learned, including other women, other students and many of her non-binary peers. Specifically, Fernes looks to her grandmothers as a constant source of inspiration.

“My Granny (paternal grandmother) holds an inspiring worldview — she cared for victims of the India-Pakistan conflict during her medical residency,” Fernes said. “My Ammamma (maternal grandmother) studied journalism and then got her MBA while raising three daughters. She has traveled to over 45 countries and is the queen of networking. They have both shaped my definition of resilience.”

As the Year of Women takes shape, Fernes urges her fellow students to push themselves out of their comfort zones and to have conversations with people that are different from themselves.

“But at the same time, holding your own and not compromising your values sometimes is tough,” Fernes said. “Finding that balance and having an intentional conversation with yourself is important.”

The Hullabaloo asked readers to submit nominations for women who inspire them on Facebook.

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