Women’s History Month luncheon


Photo courtesy of Peggy Gaffney

Panelists engaged in an empowering discussion at a luncheon held last week. The event was sponsored by the Diversity Engagement Center, Student Involvement and Leadership, the Intersectional Feminism Club, the Women’s Center and the Women of Color Group.

Demi Guillory, Reporter

As part of a series of events hosted in accordance with Women’s History Month, an all-female panel of UNO personnel was conducted in the UC Gallery Lounge on Thursday, March 21. Guests listened for an hour as distinguished faculty, staff and students shared their respective experiences in higher education.

Each of the five panelists introduced herself by sharing her path to higher education, which as Dr. Nancy Easterlin observed, “has not traveled in a straight line.” Easterlin, professor of English and foreign languages, said her start in higher education was not clear-cut, even though she was raised by a longtime professor. English was always her passion, and she began her career as a business writer after completing her master’s in creative writing. But she grew bored after a couple of years even though she acknowledged she was good at her job.

“That’s a lot of time in your life to spend bored,” Easterlin said. She decided to try different things and ended up becoming a college professor.

Kenady Hills, an anthropology major and SGA president, initially did not have her sights set on college. She admitted that her journey to higher education was a “rocky one” that started in high school.

“I was very expressive to administration, and maybe the expression was exaggerated because I was a woman or because I was a black woman in a very small, predominately white town,” she said.

She was not encouraged to continue her education, and as a result, her grades suffered. Hills made the impulsive decision to move to New Orleans after graduation, intending to “party” until a push by her mom led her to apply to Delgado and then UNO, where she surprised herself by getting accepted.

Dr. Caroline Noyes, Dr. Fallon Aidoo and Ms. Rajni Sohan rounded out the group of panelists. Their experiences in getting into careers in higher education were similar; however, Noyes, associate provost for academic programs, said she has always been involved in higher education in some capacity. She originally worked for the University of Pennsylvania leading their newspaper team. After some time, she decided she was ready to try something else after interviewing several people who worked in student affairs. Eventually, she ended up in New Orleans, landing a job as a faculty member at UNO.

“When I was presented with opportunities, more times than not I said yes, even if I didn’t know for a fact that this would work,” Noyes said.  She encouraged people to follow their curiosity.

“(I) built a career of saying ‘that looks like it could be an interesting thing, let’s go have an adventure in that area.’”

The panelists also discussed obstacles they faced as both women and working mothers and the importance of mentors. Sohan, UNO’s registrar, pointed out how maternity leave is often viewed in the workplace as a “vacation.” Though she felt ready to return to work after six weeks, she wished women had the choice to decide for themselves when it was time to go back.

Aidoo is an associate professor of planning and urban studies and said her mentors were “moms of the neighborhood.” She would not be here without them.

“I think my mom organized a caravan, literally, and brought people to my PhD graduation,” she said.

That caravan included her family, church and anyone who had prayed over her through her journey. “It was a lot,” she said, “because it took a lot to get there and it reminded me how many people supported me, even if they didn’t understand what a dissertation was.”

They all agreed that mentors were a vital part of their success, but ultimately, as Sohan reminded the audience, “you tell yourself how much you’re worth.”

The panel included lunchtime refreshments and was moderated by LaTesha Charbonnet Gonzales of the IELP Program and freshman Nadia Jackson, a sociology major and member of the UNO Intersectional Feminism Club, who co-sponsored the event.