UTPA celebrates Women's History Month
Posted: 04/01/2005
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In honor of Women's History Month, The University of Texas-Pan American held a series of events in March to commemorate and recognize the role of women in transforming culture, history and politics in America.

This year, the 25th anniversary of the multicultural women's history movement was celebrated, in addition to the 85th anniversary of women in the United States winning the right to vote. UTPA's Multicultural Center sponsored Women's History Month, to celebrate and acknowledge the struggles that women have overcome to get where they are today, said Michelle Duran, program coordinator for the Office of the Dean of Students.

To kick off the festivities, displays at the UTPA Library Lobby offered visitors a glimpse of women's history through informational posters and books.

UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas tells students how she became an advocate for the development of women in leadership roles and encouraged students to be leaders within their communities at the "Women in Leadership" presentation March 22.
UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas was the featured speaker at the "Women in Leadership" presentation sponsored by the Student Leadership Board, where she spoke to nearly 100 students March 22 about becoming a feminist and an advocate for the development of women in leadership roles.

"Leadership must be exercised by all of the people," Cárdenas said. "If women don't exercise leadership, their voice will not be heard. If your voice is not heard the problem will be inadequately understood and the solution will be inadequately framed."

The best or optimal solution to any situation requires having a diversity of people at the policy making table, she said.

"The only way you are going to have diversity at the policy making table is to have women adequately represented at that policy making table," Cárdenas said. "I have been at that policy making table for the last 40 years. Very often I've been the lone Hispanic and often the lone woman."

Yoshiaki Yoshida, a sophomore premed biology major, said Cárdenas' speech resonated with him and he agreed that representation from both men and women in society is needed.

"I already knew the importance of women in leadership and I really appreciate the way women, especially my mother, act as leaders," Yoshida said.

The Department of History and Philosophy, the History Club, The Visitors Center and Gear Up showed a screening of Adelante Mujeres, a comprehensive documentary focusing exclusively on the history of Mexican-American/Chicana women, on March 24 and students participated in a panel discussion with Dr. Jennifer Mata, UTPA history and philosophy lecturer; Dr. Angela Vergara and Dr. John Santiago, both assistant professors of history and philosophy at UTPA.

The National Women's History project - the makers of the documentary - said the documentary serves as "a tribute to the strength and resilience of women at the center of their families, as activists in their communities and as contributors to American history."

Juanita Valdez-Cox speaks to students about her experiences as a migrant farm worker and the roles of women as leaders.
As an active union leader and a member of the United Farm Workers in Texas, Juanita Valdez-Cox advocated for the rights of farm workers, decent salaries, access to unemployment insurance and health care and most recently for farm workers to work in an environment free from pesticides. The Pan American University alumna and former United Farm Workers vice president, shared her experiences with the University community March 24 about traveling with her family from the age of 12 as a migrant farm worker.

"The work alone can break ones spirit - the bending, the stooping, the lifting, the scorching sun, the thick dust, the chilling cold - and is often too much to bear," Valdez-Cox said. "The physical challenges of the fields are so great that they steal the youth of women long before old age catches them."

She told the crowd that as a young woman, she decided there was not a future for her in the fields. Valdez-Cox pursued a career in early childhood education because she wanted to prepare young children to be successful in school so they could acquire better jobs.

That drive led her to be the current state director for LUPE (La Union de Pueblo Entero) and a noted social and political activist who has helped thousands of farm workers become citizens. She attributed many community successes to women who have been courageous enough to pursue positions of leadership.

Student Health Services Health Education Coordinator, Cesar E. Quintanilla (left) explains health services available to UTPA students Celina Paras (middle), a sophomore dietetics major, and Ana Alonso (right), a freshman dietetics major, at the Women's Health Awareness Day Fair March 29.
"LUPE strives to empower working families, create social change in communities and to refine an individual's natural leadership abilities," Valdez-Cox said. "Women are taking the lead in their communities and are trying to make the communities safer for children to grow up in. Women are also working continuously to get colonia streets paved, street lights, mail service and to get running water into colonias."

She answered student's questions and encouraged them to voice their concerns about farm worker labor conditions to help make the Rio Grande Valley a better place to live.

UTPA students also celebrated being a woman by getting free fruit cups, manicures and massages on March 23 at the first-ever "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" event, sponsored by the Student Union.

Additionally the month's festivities culminated at the Women's Health Awareness Day Fair on March 29, where students, staff, faculty and the public were invited to learn more about the connection between women's history and the role it has played in the development and implementation of women's health care.

"One function of the fair was to educate students about the varied and specific types of health care available to women," Miguel Lopez, program coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students, said. "The information offered to attendees varied from mental health services such as substance abuse education, family crises, violence and rape crisis to general women's health."