150W initiatives celebrate women on UC Berkeley campus

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As UC Berkeley marks its 150th anniversary of admitting women on campus, the 150W initiatives and history project aim to celebrate women and their accomplishments on campus.

The 150W Years of Women at Berkeley celebration will span the whole calendar year of 2020, including both the spring and fall semesters. Sharon Inkelas, a 150W Executive Committee member and special faculty adviser to the chancellor on sexual violence/sexual harassment, said she feels it is “important” to celebrate this anniversary.

“It’s important to remember that Berkeley was one of the leaders in public education almost from the start,Inkelas said. “Everyone likes to celebrate success, and it’s even more fun to celebrate unsung success.”

Inkelas acknowledged that women made many contributions to the institution that were not publicly acknowledged at the time. Inkelas added that universities previously would not hire women as faculty members if their husbands were already employed there, leaving women to do work behind the scenes.

The 150W project has included many events, such as a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon to add representation of both UC Berkeley and the women involved with campus as well as a lecture by Dr. MaryLouise Patterson, daughter of Harlem Renaissance figure and campus class of 1923 alumna Louise Patterson. Inkelas noted the women’s basketball game between Stanford University and UC Berkeley, which included Chancellor Carol Christ as an honorary coach.

“We have had really good turnout for some of the other events,” Inkelas said. “Just in general, people have been turning up for the meetings we have. The enthusiasm and energy in the room is incredible.”

Oliver O’Reilly, 150W Executive Committee member and chair of campus’s Academic Senate, said working on the project as a whole has been “amazing.”

He went on to call the 150W celebration “a feel-good project.”

“It’s just been amazing, the whole lot of it. … It really has energized my year at Berkeley,” O’Reilly said. “It’s sort of indescribable, actually.”

O’Reilly also noted that Janet Napolitano is the UC system’s first female president and that Christ is UC Berkeley’s first female chancellor.

The Cal Alumni Association and Cal Athletics have been “enthusiastic” about the project and have contributed many ideas, according to O’Reilly.

Regarding changes the program faced due to the COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, pandemic and the move to online classes, Inkelas said some programs have been canceled, including events planned for Cal Day, which was going to be 150W-themed.

Inkelas said there is still time, however, to continue the celebrations.

“We’ll get back on track over the summer and in the fall,” Inkelas said. “There’s plenty of time left to celebrate.”

O’Reilly noted that fundraising for a permanent campus art project would also resume in the fall. He added that, despite the changes, this year’s admission letters were still themed to the 150W celebration.

Inkelas said, even now, 150 years after women were first admitted, UC Berkeley continues to experience “firsts” for women on campus.

“On the faculty side, I think it’s only in the last couple years that the group of faculty that we hire in any given year is even: women and men,” Inkelas said. “People look to see who is in positions of power and judge their own chances accordingly. Seeing women underrepresented can be discouraging.”

Inkelas and O’Reilly both highlighted the intentional diversity of the project.

“Some of the stories we are most familiar with are stories of white women who are successful,” Inkelas said. “There are women who don’t fit that category like women of color or transgender women.”

O’Reilly said today, people are reflecting differently on the importance of diversity, both in terms of gender and otherwise. He added that the program is an opportunity to celebrate achievements while also acknowledging that there is still progress to be made.

“What do we want to do on this campus now that in 150 years’ time, people will look back on and say, ‘Wow, I’m so glad Berkeley did that’?” O’Reilly said. “There’s value in thinking about that.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.