March to the Arch: STL Women’s March is relevant for WU, too
The Big Bend-University City MetroLink stop, located on the northwest corner of Washington University’s campus, is sparsely populated on a typical weekend morning. But on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 9:30 a.m, it was packed. Dozens of Wash. U. students, bearing Sharpie-adorned poster boards and bright pink apparel, crowded the station before boarding the train minutes later.
As the MetroLink blue line picked up passengers on its way to Union Station, the excited buzz inside the train gained momentum. Stop by stop, St. Louis residents young and old—mostly women, but a few men too—piled into the cars, which soon reached capacity.
Our destination was the STL Women’s March, a follow-up to 2017’s post-Trump-inauguration tidal wave of women’s marches.
Among the thousands of participants in this year’s event were many Washington University students, including freshman Keishi Foecke. Like the majority of students interviewed, Foecke found out about the march through social media.
“Last night, I didn’t really realize how many people were planning on going, and then when we were heading to the MetroLink this morning it was just flooded with WashU students,” Foecke said. “So that was really exciting, to see so many of us getting out and involved in the community.”
“It’s really nice to have a community all rallying around the same cause and being connected to other people in that way,” sophomore Natalia Oledzka commented. “It’s important to show that we haven’t forgotten about what has happened.”
Senior Olivia Beres, who attended last year’s Women’s March in St. Louis, also emphasized the importance of continuous action.
“I’m mainly here because continuing to show support is important, and I know a lot of people were really excited and fired up last year, but then this year didn’t feel like they wanted to make the effort to come out. [They] were afraid that because it was a smaller march, their presence wasn’t going to be important–but I thought because it was going to be a smaller march, everyone’s presence is more important,” Beres said.
Washington University women named a range of issues that they marched about with particular passion, from wage equality to education access to combating sexual harassment.
“In general, reproductive justice is really close to my heart, but I think in St. Louis, it would be incredibly stupid for us to not be talking about police brutality at this march,” Beres said.
Many echoed the sentiment of group empowerment and mutual support as the reason they were marching, including sophomore Olivia Emanuel. Emanuel cited her motivation as “To empower the women around me to stand up for what they believe in.”
The official theme for this year’s march, organized by the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis, was “Power to the Polls,” empowering women and members of all disenfranchised groups to vote in upcoming elections–such as the Feb. 6 special election in Missouri’s 97th district. While the event centered around this focus, the influence of the #MeToo movement was also visibly apparent. Among the varied and creative signs on display at the march, many denounced the pervasive culture of sexual harassment that’s been explosively exposed over the past several months.
This issue is relevant not only at the national and local levels, but on Wash. U.’s campus, as well. Recent articles in Student Life have highlighted inconsistencies in the University’s investigation process of Title IX complaints, and Wash. U. is by no means exempt from the national trends of sexual assault on college campuses. According to a 2015 campus climate survey, 22.6% of undergraduate females and 7.5% of undergraduate males have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact while a student at Washington University. Unfortunately, these rates reflect national trends, as well.
Several other issues highlighted at the march, such as workplace and wage equality, also have direct and specific relevance to the Washington University community. The lack of gender diversity within the Physics department, which employs no female tenured or tenure-track faculty, has been discussed extensively over the past year, with no resolution in sight.
Washington University students at the STL Women’s March, marched for a range of issues, representing themselves and the women in their lives. It bears recognition that the issues dominating the national stage resonate even more when they’re close to home—or to campus.
Additional contributions by Katy Hutson