Empowering women on campus with WEO

The majority of Hope College’s student body is made up of women. Specifically, 63% of full-time students are female. In a space so heavily dominated by women, it naturally follows that the female voice would make itself heard, and that there would be a desire to discuss issues that women are commonly affected by.

In the fall of 2016, a student organization was established on campus to help amplify those voices. Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) is a group that seeks to empower each and every one of the over 1700 women who attend Hope, and provide them with a space where they can feel accepted and respected.

“Our mission is to promote acceptance, nurture love and foster intersectional feminism within the Hope College community, as well as the global community, of individuals of all genders,” says WEO treasurer, senior Elli Stuk, sharing part of the group’s mission statement.

An important part of WEO’s mission is promoting intersectional feminism. According to WEO’s secretary, Paige Bialik (’22), being an intersectional feminist means not being exclusive in who you advocate for, but looking out for the interests of everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

“I feel like with feminism, often your first instinct is, ‘oh, men and women are equal.’ And it’s like, yes, not wrong, but also, there are all these other groups we need to encourage,” Bialik says. “Black men and white men are not viewed as equal. Black women and white women are not viewed as equal, and that’s such an important part of feminism. It’s like, you have to include everyone when you are talking about equality.”

The main way in which WEO works to spread their message is by leading discussion-based events. These meetings are referred to as “Wednesdays With WEO,” and they usually happen every other week.

It is not uncommon for the topics of these meetings to be ones that some may find controversial or uncomfortable. In the past, WEO has also led discussions about the history of Planned Parenthood and the faults of white feminism, to name a few. However, the women of WEO find these discussions to be necessary in helping to educate people, as well as make them comfortable with talking about things that are so common and prevalent in their lives.

One such discussion that the group recently led was about gender identity. According to Stuk, they were excited for it, because the subject was one that is not commonly discussed on Hope’s campus. 

“Especially, I think, men have a hard time talking about stuff like that, but at the same time women, because we’ve been told so often that these are things we shouldn’t really discuss, but they’re things we’re going through every day and experiencing whether we realize it or not,” Stuck says. “We just want to open a dialogue, so it’s kind of like we have to push those boundaries once in a while.”

In addition to Wednesdays With WEO, another event that the group has been known to host is “The Vagina Monologues.” 

“The Vagina Monologues,” is a play written by Eve Ensler that tells the stories of women’s experiences with their bodies, their sexuality, and their relationships, among other things. In past years, WEO has put on the whole play. However, this year, due to both COVID and time restrictions, they had what they called, “The Vagina Dialogues,” where they selected just a few of the monologues from the play to perform.

“We’ll have volunteers or members of WEO, we’ll have different pieces of literature, poems or short stories, things along that nature, and we’ll just read those. And usually we’ll have questions to discuss it along the way. And a lot of it has to deal with female sexuality or just our bodies in general,” Stuk says.

Both Stuck and Bialik say that a personal goal for them and WEO this semester is to get more students to attend their events. According to Stuck, the group has had a smaller turnout at their meetings this year, since things are on Zoom. However, the women of WEO are eager to spread their message as far across campus as possible.

“We all kind of want a bigger audience, because WEO is a small group on campus, but we have a lot of good thoughts to share. It’s just kind of like trying to encourage more people to come and share their thoughts and opinions and learn more stuff,” Bialik says.

Furthermore, all Hope students are invited and encouraged to come to WEO’s events, regardless of gender or any other factors. Stuck says that feminism is for everyone, and she wants to help in educating others on it. Even if someone isn’t comfortable participating in the discussions, they are still more than welcomed to simply come and listen.

One reason the women of WEO are so passionate about expanding the group of people who come to events is that it would increase the range of voices represented. Bialik explained that each person has a unique perspective to share and she continuously learns from hearing about other women’s experiences at their meetings.

“We should be lifting up all women, women of color, old women, young women, disabled women,” Stuk says. “You can’t just raise up the voices of young white women, privileged women. That’s not gonna get you anywhere in supporting each other. So, it’s being there for anyone who identifies as a woman.”

No matter who you are or where you come from, there is a place for you in WEO, and these women are ready to empower you.

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