Women’s History Month is dedicated to celebrating the contributions women have made to society. Throughout March, the University of Central Arkansas is taking part in honoring just that through highlighting endeavors and leaders that have enriched the UCA community.
This week, we’re spotlighting the Student Government Association’s leadership in the installation of feminine hygiene product dispensers in academic buildings across campus. Amber DiPersia, an english and criminology major who is SGA’s junior class president, and Jennifer Cale, a biology major who serves as SGA’s vice president of finance, spearheaded the proposal for the dispensers, which were installed last year and provide free products. Cale and DiPersia spoke with us about why they joined SGA and what access to free feminine hygiene products means for students. They also shared their top picks of songs written or performed by women, which you can hear on this playlist.
How have women helped shape the UCA community?
DiPersia: Women are constantly making an impact on UCA, and they have been throughout our school’s history. Just this past weekend, we had an alumni event with SGA, and I was talking to someone who attended the school in the ’60s, and she said that whenever she was here, women weren’t allowed to wear pants other than on Fridays. She, along with a cohort of others, worked toward changing that. Additionally, the women weren’t allowed to go in certain areas of the campus. A large group of women organized a protest to say, “Women should be allowed to be here,” and they almost all got kicked out of the school.
Cale: Current day, people in administration—like [Vice President of Finance and Administration] Diane Newton and [Provost and Executive Vice President] Patty Poulter, Chief of Staff Amy Whitehead—they’re power women. They go in, and they’re determined to accomplish whatever they need to get done to help the university as well as the students. I’ve never seen anyone more passionate than Patty Poulter about how much she genuinely cares about students and their success, particularly as provost, but also just as a person. She will make a point to come up to me and genuinely asks me how I’m doing personally, and not just with student government and “What’s your next project?” kind of thing. She’s actually wanting me to grow and be comfortable, emotionally and as a person. That’s not even including faculty. There’s so many strong women and faculty and staff. This campus is built on their backs in a way. We’re just carrying everything.
DiPersia: Even a significant amount of the buildings on campus are named after women, and I don’t think people fully realize that there’s just been so many influential people on campus. It’s also important to keep in mind UCA is a female-dominated school, so without a doubt, decisions are being made by women and ideas are being pitched by women behind the scenes that we may not even know about.
Cale: It’s nice to see a university that changes with the times. We have Sugar Bears now. Fifty years ago, they weren’t even allowed on the court. So it’s nice to have a university that’s always pushing to be better and better for women as well.
How should others on campus take part in honoring Women’s History Month?
Cale: I would recommend people to just pay attention to things that they normally wouldn’t, like what buildings are named after women and why are they named after women. Even knowing who the female board members are and the women in administration, knowing women are impacting campus on a daily basis, from staff to administration to Board of Trustees. There’s a cascade of things that constantly need to be worked on within women empowerment, specifically, but also that they’re in a university and in an environment that allows them to do so.
DiPersia: I was actually thinking about it earlier today, and I think UCA should do some sort of awareness event; maybe we can put up little signs in front of all the buildings that are named after women: Baridon, Bernard, Carmichael, the Christian Cafeteria, Schichtl, etc. Because I think women do make a big impact, and it’s just not something everyone thinks about on a day-to-day basis.
Cale: Also, this university, it’s over 100 years old. We have a really rich history, and one of the first student government presidents was female. And that was back in 1910. I just think that this community fosters female empowerment, but in an underground, unspoken way. It’s a constant rumble. It never erupts. It just constantly pushes us toward a new horizon every year. It’s a silent movement, in a way.
DiPersia: Everyone should write a card for their favorite woman on campus.
What inspires you?
DiPersia: Whenever I see someone struggling with something, I want to do whatever I can to help them. If I see a problem, I want to find a solution to it, and I don’t stop working on it until I’ve reached some sort of resolution. Seeing a need for change inspires me to take part in that change.
Cale: I joined SGA because I wanted to make positive change on campus. What keeps me going day to day is seeing the physical livelihood changes that can happen once you pass a resolution, or once you pass funding for this, or after [the Student Activity Fee Allocation] decides allocations. You get to pick something that you’re passionate about within SGA, and within college, and just go after it. The university is really receptive to critical feedback. They truly listen to students, not just student government. They listen to all students. Student government is just a channel for that. I joined it because I wanted to make tangible change, and I also wanted to help people, and that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me in SGA.
DiPersia: Another thing that really fuels me is seeing other people make a difference. If other people are working on making an impact, I want to know how I can contribute. I never want to be idle. Whenever I first joined SGA, I didn’t really know what I was doing or what I was getting myself into. After a bit of time being on SGA and seeing the way UCA’s operates, I was truly inspired to be part of the change.
Cale: It’s also nifty to just do something that people aren’t expecting. I think the free tampons totally blew everybody away in a good way, where they were like, “Oh, that’s new, and it’s good.” There was no drawback, really, and even being a woman in finance is a bit rare. I get comments all the time from other student governments and students. They say, “Oh, you have a female in charge of finances,” and I’m like, “So does our university.” Literally, the VP of finance is a woman here. It’s just nice to push the envelope sometimes.
How has access to free feminine hygiene products affected women on campus?
DiPersia: I think it makes a huge impact because it gives you one less thing to worry about. Sometimes you never know when your period’s going to start, but knowing that they’re there just in case something happens is a huge relief. I know it is for me. I’ve heard from other people that it is. You’re able to spend more time thinking about school rather than worrying.
Cale: The products are strategically put where they are in academic buildings to ensure that students stay in class. I think it’s definitely helped a lot because if you start your period in the middle of class and you’re unprepared, you really have no other choice [but] to go back to your dorm or your apartment. That’s sometimes not an option because not everybody has transportation. Also, even if you do leave, the odds of you coming back once you’re home are slim. It’s just really nice to know that we’re not only helping them in an academic way, but we’re helping them in a personal way as well. We’re taking their health, their dignity and their academics into consideration with this project. I hope that they feel that love.
DiPersia: We’re always open to suggestions—I think everyone on campus is! So feel free to reach out and make those suggestions.
Cale: We have an SGA office, Student Center 208. We’re open, and if we’re not open, then send a submission on CubConnect.
What are your top song picks written or performed by a woman?
DiPersia: “Bitter With the Sweet” by Carole King
“Trip, Stumble and Fall” by the Mamas & The Papas
“Shake It Off” by Florence + the Machine
“Woman” by Etta James
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
“Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce
Cale: “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine
“Praying” by Kesha
“Green Light” by Lorde
“Don’t Stop the Music” by Rihanna
Listen to the Spotify playlist.