In an empowering display across Nichols campus, the Institute for Women’s Leadership celebrated Women’s History Month in a new fashion. On the evening before March 1st, 50 portraits were hung up across campus, featuring the faces of students, staff and faculty alike- male and female. Each image was straight-faced, black and white, and dramatically displayed a short quote. Each quote represented a personal story of how the featured individual has been stereotyped based on their gender at some point in their life. To tie the installation into Women’s History Month, participants were also asked to name a woman who has made history who they find inspiring.
Although this type of social movement is new for Nichols campus, the IWL felt it was a needed step to awaken our campus on just how prevalent gender stereotyping is in the lives of our community members. Students, staff and faculty members have seemingly agreed, as the discussion and feedback has been largely positive. Even two weeks after the initiation of the display, people are still seen stopping in their tracks to read the quotes when they walk into the major buildings around campus.
The inspiration came after the IWL’s fall trip to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The UN had a large photo installation of refugees from around the world displaying quotes reflecting on their experiences. Ever since that trip in November, we knew we needed to bring that type of creative effort to Nichols. And Nichols has seemingly embraced that effort.
During the initial phases on the installation, we expected to have maybe a dozen participants if we were lucky. Yet, as word spread through networks, friend groups, and sports teams, our community members kept showing up to the green screen room to be photographed and share their story. The sheer number of participation and interest was inspiring in itself as it proves that Nichols students and faculty members want to share their stories and are willing to face some of their largest fears in order to embrace a cultural change. Many participants were scared at first thought of having their portrait displayed across campus, putting their face attached to a personal story. Yet, the most fulfilling moment of the whole process was when individuals saw the final printed version. They looked and felt strong.
It’s been comforting, shocking, and motivating to hear just how many students and faculty members identify with the experiences being displayed on the posters. It comforts each of us to know that we are not alone in our struggles, yet proves that gender stereotyping is still an issue to be fought. For those that remain confused, the posters are simply to bring awareness that our community members feel these stereotypes, many of who battle them each and everyday.
One of the most significant efforts in this project was inviting and encouraging male participation. What is often forgotten is that although the Institute for Women’s Leadership primarily focuses on building confidence and leadership skills for our female student, the Institute values male representation as well. The Institute is a resource for all students to build their bravery, share their voice, and encourage others to be great leaders despite societal stereotypes and misconceptions.
Nichols may be a business school, but no business has every succeeded without a little creativity and a big leap of faith. The same goes with social and cultural change. Nichols students show day in and day out that they embrace those challenges each day in their educational and professional suits. We hope that each participant and each person who sees and reads the quotes on the images recognizes the power of their story and their voice as well to fight against whatever their own personal stories and experiences with gender stereotypes may be. Finally, we are proud to be the first to bring this artistic freedom and social movement to Nichols campus, but we certainly hope we are not the last.
We encourage any and all feedback. You can reach us at IWL@nichols.edu or stop into the IWL in NAB.