A shift in culture at Norwich

Women’s panel offers perspectives on female paths, leadership paths


Norwich University admissions advisor Sarah DeBouter found her experiences as a former female civilian student to be a driving force in her efforts to create inclusiveness and connections for future students at the university.

“I did experience a lot of adversity as a strong female leader on a primarily male dominated campus,” DeBouter said of her four years of study at Norwich. “When I think about my experience as a student, and what I would have made it better, I think about having more resources accessible to minorities on campus.”

DeBouter was the only female member of the honor committee during the merger of civilian and cadet honor committees her junior year. It was the first year civilian students had a voice on campus and could participate in designing their own class rings.

“I was told more than once that I had no right to speak or to an opinion,” DeBouter said. “There was a large tension between the lifestyles, and I think that fueled a lot of my fire.”

As the official coordinator, DeBouter encouraged students, staff, and the local community to join her in Milano Ballroom on March 25th for a women’s panel for open discussion and a networking event to highlight their accomplishments in the face of adversity.

 

In Matt Roche’s view as Title IX coordinator at NU, “this is an opportunity to highlight many of the women leaders on campus and learn about how they have ascended to their current positions, while also highlighting some of the challenges that they have faced in their respective fields, as a result of being a woman.”

The department of diversity, equity, and inclusion sponsored the women’s panel event according to Roche.

“Women-focused programing could be really helpful for improving the climate, retention, and hopefully increasing the (male to female) ratio a little bit,” DeBouter explained.

The idea to promote positive change was shared between DeBouter and Roche.

“I am excited for the growth of programming focused around women on campus. It seems to have been an area that was not focused on greatly,” Roche said.

Nicole Navarro, a 21-year old political science major from San Antonio, Texas; who previously participated in the Voices for International Women’s Day event, was one of those who presented for the women’s panel.

“I am the opener for the event! We are seeing a tremendous shift in culture here by women from the faculty and staff,” Navarro said.

Besides Navarro, a variety of univesity women participated in the event, including panelists Professor Tara Kulkarni, who teaches in the engineering school, Elizabeth Kennedy, Major Theresa Farrell, Professor Lea Williams, who teaches English and chairs the department of English and communications, and Cary Brown.

“I wanted to make sure that we were really focusing on the valuable resources we already have on campus to show students that there are women here who are doing really amazing things, and expose students to individuals they might not have otherwise known,” DeBouter said.

Major Theresa Farrell is currently the only female military member working in the Army ROTC at Norwich.

“They asked for a military woman representative and at the time I was the only woman on the ROTC staffing,” Farrell said.

Farrell, who grew up in Minnesota, did not come from a military family. She was recruited to go to West Point where her journey with the United States Army began.

“I commissioned back in 2001 into the active duty army as a second lieutenant. I was an engineer officer at the time. My first duty assignment was in Germany.”

Farrell’s path changed several times before she decided to make the army a career.

“My husband and I got out (of the Army) after my first son was born in early 2008, then we ended up staying in Germany for an extra year,” Farrell said.

Since then, Farrell and her family lived in Rhode Island and afterwards found their way to Vermont where they both eventually decided to join the Army National Guard.

“I went back to work full-time for the army and I really enjoyed it again,” Farrell said. “I am going on 12 or 13 years of active duty at this point.”

After a five year break in service, Farrell realized she had taken a different path than many people, and she encourages women to never feel ashamed for changing their plans, or limiting their goals.

“In today’s society we really can do anything we put our minds to, it is just a matter of if you are willing to put in that hard work,” Farrell said. “ I am just doing my masters now, and I have three kids. From my perspective, you can make anything happen if you want to do it bad enough.”

Women’s panel event moderator Dr. Amy Woodbury Tease has always found herself invested in starting discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Norwich, especially if it empowers students to participate and act on topics they find unjust.

“Women’s issues at Norwich need attention and women need to support one another to gain leadership roles, so I hope that by participating in this panel I am able to foster more mentorship between women and empower other women on campus to participate in these important conversations,” Tease said.

Although Tease hoped for a huge turnout, the number of people who show up to the event was far less important than the engagement in the discussion.

“It is actually more important that those who come out for the discussion are interested in the conversation and eager to participate and engage with the panelists. I’d rather have a small but engaged audience than a large but inattentive audience,” Tease said.

Prior the event, Tease along with DeBouter, explained that they wanted to reach a diverse audience. DeBouter emphasized it was not an exclusive event – everyone was welcome.

“We will have a lot of different perspectives on what it means to be a leader in various fields. (This is important because) there is a sense that, as a woman, you do not have the invitation to speak out. The first step in changing it is changing our perspective,” DeBouter said.

In 2019, on the Norwich University campus, women finally have the resources for their voices to be heard, according to Roche.

“We have a group of staff that is really interested in advancing women’s voices on campus, and now that we have offices and resources to be able to support those efforts, they are beginning to become more prominent on campus,” Roche said.

The women’s discussion panel, which partners with past events such as the students-led event Voices for International Women’s Day, is a platform for change on the Norwich University campus led by some of Norwich’s strongest female leaders, according to DeBouter.

Tease echoed those sentiments.

“I have been fortunate to work with women who have helped me navigate through difficult situations, to find my voice, and to become a leader within my department. I want to do the same for others, and especially encourage students to support one another, and to feel empowered to talk about issues that matter to them,” Tease said.

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