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Gender Matters offers feminist approaches to a diverse range of discussions on intersectional, transnational, and community issues. Contributors include UB students, faculty, and staff, as well as greater Buffalo community members, whose perspectives enrich our collective feminist engagement with education, research, and lived realities.

The Gender Institute welcomes new potential authors. Those interested should contact the blog manager, Hilary Vandenbark at hilaryva@buffalo.edu.

Recent Posts:

The Global Women's Empowerment Movement

By Amanda M. Hart

February 24, 2021

What do you get when you pair; an art-savvy psychology major from the University at Buffalo, a budding researcher in biology at Stonybrook University, and a compassionate health care worker at SUNY Empire State? Three young women looking for a place to shine and showcase their common passion. Women's Empowerment

Pink circle with pink block letters spelling GWEM. A pencil sketch of a woman looking over her shoulder is in the center of the circle with the letters under her.

The original GWEM team came about as a transition arose from a summer program. All three young women, (Daniela Maniscalchi, Jasmine Kumar, and I) had attended the SUNY COIL program for the first Virtual Study Abroad during the height of the 2020 Pandemic. While bars and restaurants were closed, and statewide lockdowns and restrictions were in place, the only place open was the opportunity that awaited at the other end of the Zoom call with their NGO in Nigeria (PriHEMAC). As I led my team, we hurdled over the predictable challenges that come with working abroad or with a global clientele and grappled with the new challenge of working on a virtual platform. As the communication was still struggling with the team, I began to post on the message board about wanting to do a magazine laying out the foundation of what I thought we could offer the NGO, even considering the time. It would allow for individual student work to be showcased, as well as promote the mission of the NGO. With the team supporting my mission, and Professor John Justino's support, the magazine was a great success. The NGO had applauded the efforts of the team and distributed the contents to over 1000 of its stakeholders.

As the project ended, I reached out to my team members and offered to continue the work we had started with the second issue of PriHEMAC magazine. The team agreed to work under my parent organization, Buffalo Custom Art, to produce more content for the NGO. But little did we know that this would soon be flipped upside down.

That week I had signed up for another virtual study abroad class led by Dr. Mara Huber. The class, which was much like the SUNY COIL program, but more in-depth, focused on the country of Tanzania. The class, which comes in the form of an individualized project experience, prompted discussion about Women's Safety during a guest speaker visit. Dr. Huber's class, which didn't necessarily focus on Women's empowerment, slowly began to evolve into female empowerment topics. Speakers would voice concerns about the social, physical, and mental problems associated with women's human rights issues such as rape, FGM, early childhood marriage, and more.

Cover of GWEM magazine. A black and white image of a Black woman looking off to the right. Pink lettered headlines introduce the magazine's Tanzania Edition.

After that class visit, something deep within me stirred and I wasted no time getting to work. That night I pulled out a whiteboard and started mapping out an idea for a Women's Empowerment Fundraiser in which I would paint female empowerment artwork that would be auctioned off for a cause. I approached Dr. Huber the next day and as we percolated over the idea of a fundraiser, we faced two major problems. 1. Most of New York was still under social distancing orders, so hosting an event to auction would be difficult if not impossible. 2. Money is just a drop in the bucket to the bigger problem: a lack of awareness. Coming into Dr. Huber's class why had I not heard of these topics before? It wasn't like they were small social issues. I asked Dr. Huber if she thought making another magazine to highlight the issues would be a good idea, and Dr. Huber supported it.

After the meeting, I sat at the drawing board staring blankly at the paintings debating on what to do next. Then, the idea hit like a ton of bricks. If I wasn't informed on these topics when I thought I had been, who else wasn't? If the idea of a girl being propositioned so they can attend school doesn't turn your stomach or that FGM is now being performed on baby girls as young as a year old doesn't compel you to act, then you need to reexamine the world in a more dynamic point of view. The fact is that these are real social issues, that have complex and nasty implications when they are fought against. Women have died trying to fight for basic human rights, and why should they be fighting alone? And why are these stories and efforts going somewhat unnoticed? That was the night GWEM was born. I worked through the next few days making a website, creating a palatable feminist brand that would promote women's sustainability issues and projects, student collaboration with NGOs, changemakers, educators, and global communities. When it was presented to Dr. Huber as a concept the idea quickly gained traction. The first magazine was a huge success, with many young women appreciating the real and raw content they were reading.

A pink billboard-style advertisement featuring the words "GWEM: Become an Ambassador Today" next to a circular image of three women laughing and throwing confetti.

GWEM Magazine, the Global Women's Empowerment Network now consists of over 300 members and is quickly growing its subscriber base. It is a free publication that is looking for student and educator submissions concerning women's empowerment initiatives, sustainability efforts, and more. One goal of our project is to make feminism a palatable experience for all women, as well as highlighting real Women's issues and stories, much unlike other magazines out on the market. The second issue of the magazine ( The Dreamer Edition ), which will discuss the Social Determinants of Health about Women's empowerment, is set to be released in the Summer of 2021.

Currently, GWEM is looking for faculty and students who are willing to promote or support its mission. GWEM Magazine is also open on the ELN's Project portal for interested students looking for a global collaboration experience. For more information, please visit www.gwemag.com or contact Editor in Chief Amanda Hart amhart5@buffalo.edu

It's your time to shine!


Amanda Hart
 is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GWEM Magazine.

 

 

Linguistic Legacies: Honoring Professor Madeleine Mathiot

By Sydney Jameson-Blowers

February 8, 2021

In September of 2020, I joined the Gender Institute as a work-study student. I was excited to participate in all the good work they do and interested to learn more about how they advocate for the rights of women, people of color, and people in the LGBTQ+ community on UB’s campus. I looked forward to exploring how I could use my background and skills in Linguistics to further these causes. When I joined the Gender Institute team, I was invited to take a look at some linguistic research that had been donated to the Institute by a professor. These turned out to be old projects that had been completed in the 1990s by the students of Dr. Madeleine Mathiot, Professor Emerita of the Linguistics Department at UB. Her students had conducted interviews with their peers to discover what words they used to describe someone of the opposite gender. Altogether, these students had collected over 1,000 gendered descriptive terms!

Word cloud image of words related to gender and linguistics using green and orange fonts.

When I contacted Professor Mathiot to ask her permission to use this data in a study, she was kind, courteous, and incredibly helpful. It had been many years since this project was completed, but she offered to help in any way that she could. She even suggested a further study she had contributed to that could help inform my research. This generosity, and a passion for unique research, seems to have characterized Dr. Mathiot’s entire career. She received her Ph. D in Anthropology from the Catholic University of America after receiving her M. S. in Linguistics from Georgetown University. Her work was rooted in structuralist methods, and she combined ethnographic, semantic, and fieldwork research. Her expertise in indigenous languages of the Southwestern US resulted in several publications, including a Tohono ‘O’odham-English usage dictionary in 1973. Throughout her career, Dr. Mathiot combined the cognitive and cultural aspects of language use, which included producing a large body of work on folk taxonomy and definitions. She creatively and courageously followed her own research path, independent of the popular research trends of the time.

Image of Madeleine Mathiot, a woman with short gray hair wearing a pink linen blouse and a long brown necklace.

Madeleine Mathiot

On December 4, 2020, Dr. Madeleine Mathiot died peacefully. She is honored and remembered fondly by her colleagues in the UB Linguistics Department and the University at Buffalo at large. Though I have known her solely through email correspondence, she provided me with all the tools I needed to launch the largest research project I have conducted so far in my career. Her life and work are an inspiration to all aspiring linguists, myself included. She has had an incredible impact in the fields of language and gender for many years and will continue to influence future researchers for years to come.

As for me, I wish to represent her work well in my own project and build upon her research. I hope that my efforts will be a fitting tribute to her legacy and that my work will honor her own.


Sydney Jameson-Blowers is pursuing her Master's in Linguistics. She is a researcher at the Gender Institute working on a comparative analysis of Dr. Mathiot's work with contemporary gendered language terms. This project will be featured on upcoming episodes of the Gender Matters Podcast. 

From Margin to Center: Reflecting on the Survivors Agenda Summit

By Hilary Vandenbark

October 6, 2020

On September 24-26, I had the honor of virtually attending the Survivors Agenda Summit. The Summit launched an agenda for survivors to form radical communities across difference and assert the power of a movement built by and for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. The Summit was very moving and important to me both professionally and personally. My dissertation research investigates government responses to sexual violence and anti-rape social movements. On a personal level, the Summit took place shortly before the 9-year anniversary of my own experience with sexual violence which I’ve written about previously

Orange and yellow cover with "Survivors Agenda" written in bold white font on a black rectangle. A group of people appear at the bottom in black and white photos.

Through my research, advocacy, and teaching experience, I’ve learned how power and structural violence impact people who experience assault very differently. While I’m sad for my 20-year-old self who wouldn’t figure out until years later that what happened that night was violence that she neither invited or deserved, I recognize that my story is more recognizable in our cultural understanding of what sexual violence looks like. The Summit aimed to change that perception by centering those pushed to the side of the sexual violence conversation.

The Summit was organized by women of color: Ai-Jen Poo, Fatima Goss Graves, Tarana Burke, and Monica Ramirez. Throughout the Summit, they brought together experts in their own experiences, queer, trans, and nonbinary people, people with varying disabilities, people living with the aftermath of military sexual violence, Indigenous women facing an epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), people at the intersection of sexual violence and immigration status and many more.

Between panels and opening and closing each day, the Summit featured musicians, poets, performing artists, yoga practitioners, and more. An entire page of the Summit’s website was devoted to virtual healing spaces that folks could access if they had trauma responses during and after events.

What made the Survivors Agenda Summit so powerful was that, for once, the space was not dominated by people who look like me. I am white, able-bodied (and relatively able-minded), cis-heterosexual, well-educated, and middle class-adjacent. My research shows me that women of color, especially Indigenous women, are far more likely to experience sexual and gender-based violence than myself. The data proves that LGBTQ people are disproportionately represented in sexual violence statistics, yet have the hardest time accessing services that were built around the experiences and needs of cis-het women.

The Summit was truly an exercise in moving from margin to center, as bell hooks would say. Those most marginalized in movements took the Summit platform by storm. I learned so much from just listening to these speakers, artists, healers, and warriors. What happens when we center the most vulnerable in our movement spaces? What has been lost when white women have excluded the expertise, needs, and vision of those we have othered? We got a small and powerful glimpse of a revolutionary world free of violence against all people. We can work toward achieving this world when privileged folks like me commit to stepping back and lifting up the work these folks have been doing for a long time. This is just the start. Let’s get to it.

 

Hilary Vandenbark is a PhD Candidate in Global Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Buffalo. Vandenbark currently serves as the Graduate Assistant at the Gender Institute and hopes to work in public policy and advocacy upon completing her doctorate. 

Gender Institute's "Summer Reads"

May 18, 2020

At the beginning of each summer, the Gender Institute invites faculty, staff, and graduate students to share their summer reading selections with us! Ranging from cutting edge scholarship to comforting classics to works that resonate with current events, this year's lists are sure to pique your interest! 

The Gender Institute would like to thank those who contributed their selections this year, including Glenna Bett Sharonah Fredrick, Stacy Hubbard, Carine Mardorossian, Kathleen Parks Marsh, Cody Mejeur, Randy Schiff, David Schmid, Kari Winter, and Victoria Wolcott. 

Enjoy!

Blue text in the center says "Summer Reads" surrounded by a collage of book covers.

A sampling of the selections for this year's Summer Reads.

Glenna Bett

Black and white sketch of a Roman leader in front of a crowd. The title, "Laughter in Ancient Rome," appears in red.

My summer quarantine reading list includes Mary Beard’s Laughter in Ancient Rome (2015). Anything by Dame Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge, is worth reading, listening to, or viewing. She has transformed our access to history, bringing a tangible sense of what life was actually like for the people. This looks to be a great book, as the first snippet I read was about a Senator who wanted to laugh out loud in response to the foolish behavior of his pompous leader, and had to chew vigorously on laurel leaves to hide his laugh. Laughing in the face of “Leaders”! That is what we need.

The second book on the list is Gaston Dorren’s Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages. Tracing the connectedness of people through the languages of the world is always fun. How similar we are, how different we are. Of course, the roots of “English” are an incredible fusion, reflecting all those who conquered the British Isles. The English language continues to be reshaped, reformed, and redefined for use around the world. The evolution of languages is interesting. This book was positively reviewed, but the few pages I have read center on Dorren, rather than on the evolution of language, which is disappointing. Babel has been abandoned in my car since quarantine began. Will I summon sufficient interest to retrieve the book before the lockdown ends?

Carrie Bramen

Gray book cover with blue text stating "Stop Telling Women to Smile" below a sketch of an unsmiling young woman.

At the top of my stack of summer reading is Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s long awaited Stop Telling Women to Smile: Stories of Street Harassment and How We’re Taking Back Our Power (Seal Press 2020). A classically trained oil painter based in Brooklyn, Fazlalizadeh started a street art series a number of years ago featuring portraits of women with a single sentence describing how they feel about being harassed in public places. “My name is not baby, sweetie, sweetheart, shorty, sexy, honey, pretty.” There is a short documentary about this project that I show my first-year students in Creative Nonfiction, and I hope to have them read this book when I teach this course again in the Fall.

The second book is Harvard historian Walter Johnson’s latest The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States (Hachette 2020). Beginning with Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition to the Ferguson uprising in 2014, St Louis represents “a crucible of American history,” where empire intersects with anti-Blackness. This book has already been deemed a masterpiece, in the vein of W. E. B. Du Bois’s essay “The Souls of White Folk,” written in the aftermath of the 1917 massacre in East St. Louis.

Sharonah Fredrick

Book cover image depicting a stone cathedral with light coming through a circular window. The text La Catedral Del Mar appears in white letters over the image.

I am looking forward to diving into the Spanish-language novel by the great Catalan writer, Ildefonso Falcones, La catedral del mar. The book tells a powerful story of love, hate, religious intolerance, and female and male survival in the dark world of late medieval Barcelona. Its story focuses on women of the serf class and the men who loved or hated them, and the ways in which the stranglehold of the early Iberian Inquisition forced women into marginalized and victimized positions, which included having to marry their rapist if the rapist so desired. (Yes folks, the Inquisition started long before Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain in the late 15th century). La catedral del mar is by a male author who has a magnificent power of empathy with his female heroines, and I find it uplifting to know that it IS thoroughly possible for men to comprehend, and support, women's struggles in any epoch. I've seen the impressive television series based on La catedral del mar which Spain's RTVE network produced a few years ago;  and now I can't wait to dive into that mar (sea for you all who don't yet know Spanish) with a cup of nice thick Mexican cocoa on a sunny soft day.

Stacy Hubbard

I've been enjoying front door delivery from Talking Leaves Books in recent weeks. In my latest bag are Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (a former UB undergraduate now teaching at Princeton); Ha Jin's A Map of Betrayal (the story of a woman's search for the history of her father, a Chinese spy captured in the U.S.); and Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men (the partner text to The Woman Warrior, based on her father's experience as a Chinese immigrant in the U.S.). I'm also in the middle of reading Elizabeth Outka's Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature, which I actually bought just before our current pandemic hit--the historical resonances between our present moment and the 1918-19 flu season are quite illuminating (though bleak).

Sepia tint book cover depicting a young Black child sitting on stone steps in front of a building. The text reads "Race for Profit" over the image.
Red book cover with the text "A Map of Betrayal" written in black.
Plain book cover with the title "China Men" displayed vertically in red. The two words are separated by a depiction of a small Chinese red dragon.

Carine Mardorossian

I needed to read something funny and light to help me bear the chaos that has been surrounding us in so many dimensions of our lives since the pandemic. So I picked up again A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, which is simply hilarious and was endorsed by none other than Jon Stewart. It is as funny the second time as the first, and speaks to every academic’s obsession with the nature of knowledge.

Kathleen Parks Marsh

Colorful chain of hashtag symbols beneath the title, "Hashtag Activism.".

#Hashtag Activism by Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey, & Brooke Foucault Welles

After hearing these women speak about their book I am fascinated to read more about how marginalized and disenfranchised groups have used this social media platform to effectively and often times powerfully advocate for themselves and their causes.

Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner

In teaching Psychology of Aggression and Violence this Spring, I came across the Ted Talk by Leslie and subsequently purchased her book. She chronicles her experience as a young 22 year old woman whose seemingly perfect boyfriend/fiancé became the husband who pushed her down stairs and threatened her with a gun, and why it took so long to leave him.

Book cover of two women on the beach. A pink sunset sky where the title, "When We Believed in Mermaids" appears.

When We Believed in Mermaids: A Novel by Barbara O’Neal

I have read the first two chapters on-line and am hooked….this novel describes a woman who lost her sister in a terrorist attack 15 years ago and now believes she has seen her in a news broadcast half-way around the world.

It has all the elements I love, sisters, mystery, and a search for truth.

 

 

Cody Mejeur

Bright blue book cover image with various animated video game controllers underneath white text that states "Video Games Have Always Been Queer.".

I look forward to using the summer months to catch up on some publishing projects at a relaxed pace with plenty of breaks, and to that end I’ll be reading two recent books by colleagues in queer and feminist media studies. The first is Video Games Have Always Been Queer by Bonnie Ruberg. Ruberg argues that queer representation, narratives, and experiences are not something new just being added to games, but rather that video games have always had queer elements to them. For example, she argues in the first chapter that Pong can be read as a queer experience, and opens space for considering how other games without explicit queer content could further projects in queer world-building. I especially appreciate this sort of argument because it reminds me that queerness is everywhere, not just cordoned off in particular approved areas of society and   
                                           popular culture.

White book cover with six black and white icons with the text "Gamer Trouble" in gold lettering.

The second book is Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture by Amanda Phillips. Informed by queer and women of color feminisms, Phillips’ book tackles how issues (troubles) of difference, diversity, and online violence are not just issues of representation––they’re inherent to every part of digital technologies from the logics of computation and control to optimization of gameplay to hardware and software industry practices. Phillips’ work is also situated within digital humanities discourses and practices, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she traces the links between games and the many industries and technologies related to them. As I often tell my students, games are a microcosm of larger societal and cultural trends, and an especially important one given the ties between hate movements like GamerGate and the Alt-Right.

Randy Schiff

Summer 2020 seems like a great time to finally read Ice, by Anna Kavan. I have been eyeing this icy post-apocalypse narrative for a long time. Perhaps the confluence of environmental deterioration and political dysfunction will offer some strangely comforting escapism during these difficult times: it could, after all, be much worse. A second item that I plan to read this summer is The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. I’ve never gotten very far into what is regarded by many as one of the finest works of premodern world literature—and perhaps this will be the summer where I finally read it all the way through. My translated edition comes complete with wonderful woodcuts from a seventeenth-century edition of Lady Murasaki’s novel.

Black book cover with large white letters that says "Ice." Two large snowflakes appear in the upper right corner.
Book cover featuring Japanese-style art depiction of a woman wearing a kimono near the sea. The words "The Tale of Genji" appear in gold letters.

David Schmid

Summer is the time I reserve for big books I don't have enough time to read during the academic year. This summer I'm planning to read two massive tomes by veteran and prolific Marxist theorists. First up is geographer David Harvey's A Companion to Marx's Capital, the written version of the famous annual lectures Harvey has been giving on this subject for decades (and which are available on YouTube). I plan to read this alongside Capital itself, just as one might read Freud alongside Ernest Jones' The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. I'll then turn to Mike Davis' and Jon Wiener's Set the Night on Fire, the first comprehensive history of social and political movements in Los Angeles in the Sixties. Together, I hope these books will help me figure out how to configure the 'new normal' in a post-COVID world by combining local activism on the part of sexual, racial, and political minorities with global anti-capitalist struggle.

White book cover with two large red spots over which the text "A Companion to Marx's Capital" appears in black.
Blue tinted portrait image of Sigmund Freud. The title "The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud" appear in gold capital letters across his forehead.
Book cover of a black and white image of a protest underneath the title "Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties" in a black and red font.

Hilary Vandenbark

Blue and Purple book cover with the title, "Boys and Sex," in big white letters.

This summer, I'm looking forward to exploring new conceptualizations of masculinity and catching up on some of the great scholarship being produced here at UB. Starting with Dr. Ndubueze Mbah's Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age. Next, I'm going to read Peggy Orenstein's new book Boys and Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity.  I am also currently revisiting Deborah Gould's Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight Against AIDS because it feels particularly timely and insightful for how emotions are being mobilized for good or ill during COVID-19. 

I hope you also get a chance to read Lisa Downing's new book Selfish Women in anticipation of her webinar lecture with us on September 17, 2020. You can register here:  https://bit.ly/LisaDowningWebinar

Kari Winter

Black and white image of a woman facing a wall wearing black gloves and a black top with a deep V in the back. The book title, Recollections of My Nonexistence, appears in thin white letters.

Having just completed Rebecca Solnit’s memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence, which articulates brilliant insights into how women are silenced through being denied credibility, I am now beginning her essay collection-cum-cultural- phenomenon, Men Explain Things to Me.

I am re-reading Barbara Goldsmith’s Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand nineteenth-century America, the horrific underside of women’s oppression, the reasons women turned to spiritualism for empowerment, and the genealogy of evangelical misogyny.  I’m planning to finish W.E.B. DuBois’s monumental Black Reconstruction, a masterpiece of historiography wrenched from unwilling archives and hostile institutions.  To lighten the mood, I plan to spend hours every day reading the nature in my garden.

Victoria Wolcott

Tinted images of a woman in the top half of the cover and a man in the bottom half. The title of the book, "The Princess and the Prophet" separates the images in a large square.

This summer I’m reading two dynamic works of American religious history that place gender at their center: Benjamin E. Park’s Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on an American Frontier uses recently available Mormon archival records to excavate a remarkable religious utopia. Jacob S. Dorman’s The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Moorish Muslims in America tells the story of Prophet Noble Drew Ali who founded the Moorish Science Temple of America. I am also eager to read Buffalo-native Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s multiple-prize winning book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. And when I need a break I’ll be finishing Martha Wells’s Murderbot series, hilarious short science fiction novels about a robot designed to kill who would prefer to binge his favorite shows.

Lillian Williams: Trailblazing Woman Award

May 14, 2020

In March 2020, Professor Lillian Williams (African and African-American Studies/Transnational Studies) received one of the inaugural Trailblazing Women of Western New York Award for her dedication to ensuring Women of Color's contributions to WNY are not forgotten. Williams serves on the steering committee of the Trailblazing Women of Western New York Monuments Project. Below is a transcript of her acceptance speech which she has graciously allowed us to share as well as some photos from this and past Trailblazing Women events.

Lillian Williams gives a speech while wearing a red blazer.

Lillian Williams delivers her acceptance speech for the inaugural Trailblazing Women of WNY Award.

I am pleased to accept the Trailblazing Women’s Award.

I want to thank the Trailblazers for bestowing this honor upon me and congratulations to the other recipients.

Oberlin College Alumna and Educator Anna Julia Cooper wrote “it is not the intelligent woman v. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman v. the black, the brown, and the red, --it is not even the cause of woman v. man.  Nay ‘tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice.” What a gift it has been to work with such women of courage, commitment and compassion and to hear their diverse voices.

Four women post in front of a poster of historical women figures in Western New York.

Trailblazing Women honorees pose with Erie County Commission of Public Advocacy Karen King at the awards ceremony. Left to Right: Kelly Hayes McAlonie, Lori Quigley, Lillian Williams, Karen King.

My journey as an historian probably began in first grade when my teacher Mrs. Fisher encouraged students to bring books to school to share.  I was fascinated by my father’s book collection and I chose to share Historian J. A. Rogers’ 100 Little Known Facts about the Negro. Rogers wrote about African kings and queens, warriors and scientists. Much to my surprise Mrs. Fisher told me that my father’s books were a pack of lies and I should not bring them to school. She informed the class that Africans had not contributed anything to civilization and that they were only slaves.  But the clincher for me was that she said Africa was the dark continent. I was on the verge of tears at that point because I thought the sun didn’t shine in Africa.  This experience posed a conflict for me—my Dad, my hero v. the establishment educator. Nevertheless, I secretly continued my clandestine studies
                                                                                      and shared my findings only with trusted classmates.

My secret pursuits continued and were encouraged by my eight grade English teacher Miss Kelly who urged me to learn about the experiences of African Americans, especially women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She assigned me to teach what I had learned to the class, for she said she would be penalized, if she taught those texts. But she contended that I could because her students had to do oral presentations and could select their own topics.             

Two women pose in front of a poster depicting Mary Burnett Talbert.

Lillian Williams (left) in front of a poster of Mary Burnett Talbert, for whom Williams fought to name Talbert Hall on UB's North Campus.

These experiences taught me to dig deeply, to conduct research and to persist in my pursuit of the truth. They also taught me what an important tool history is. There was no doubt that I would major in history when I went to college. But they also imbued in me the desire to make the knowledge that I was acquiring available to a broader community of lay and academic populations. Service was a critical component in making this happen.  My parents were active in their communities. They took me to lectures, introduced me to civil rights organizations and provided role models and road maps for civic engagement which later produced lectures, museum exhibitions, publications, etc.

The Trailblazing Monuments project is a culmination of the work of many individuals to honor women who battled racism, gender inequity and classism. As Buffalo suffragist and human rights activist Mary Burnett Talbert observed, it is important that our children know that these women dedicated their lives to transforming their world; thus, they prove that persistent struggle yields progress and they, too, can thrive and make a difference.

 I thank you for this award and I accept it in memory of my mother, Ada Lucille Williams.

           Lillian Serece Williams

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