Four years ago I walked onto this campus not knowing a single soul. I was optimistic, albeit rather naïve. I did my best to get involved on campus, I volunteered, joined clubs and became a member of a sorority. Regardless of my efforts, it took me a little while longer than I expected to find my place on campus.
At the end of my freshman year I joined the Student Government Association. Being a member of SGA took me on a journey that has shaped my last three years at the Capstone. Through SGA I have made friends, found a passion for communication, met inspiring people, broken out of my comfort-zone, and learned that being a woman makes everything just a little bit more challenging.
I have never been one to protest. I don’t enjoy being in the spotlight or to making a big fuss. Don’t get me wrong, I have my views and I believe in them passionately. During the past four years I have not been the most outspoken person, maybe it is because of my personality or that I was never comfortable enough speaking out. So I guess this is my last chance to speak my mind and hope that someone hears me.
I grew up being told that I could be anything I wanted to if I tried hard enough. Well it turns out that that’s not necessarily true, but it took me a while to realize it. I have tried hard to succeed at everything I have done, but I still have failed. And that’s fine. I know I am not going to win at everything (even if I want to), but what I do expect is to be given the same respect and chance as any man who is trying.
One of the things I have come to learn in my 21 years on this Earth is that less credit is given to what we, as women, accomplish. For women on this campus it is no different. Women have to work harder than men to get recognition, but what we do is just as valuable.
Just this year I have had friends tell me they were surprised to learn that I had a boyfriend, since I am so involved in leadership roles on campus. I was taken aback; what, my boyfriend can’t possibly handle that I am in a position of power? There have been times when people have told me that I come across as intimidating since I speak my mind and am assertive. What they were really trying to say is that it’s intimidating for men to have someone that’s a women challenge them. Every time we have a candlelight I have to repeatedly convince everyone it’s not me and every time they don’t understand that I am currently more invested in my career goals than getting a ring by spring.
Herein lies the problem. We act like women are different when we are not, and sadly we often let it slide. We make jokes about women getting MRS degrees and only being in the business school to meet boys. We allow positions within our student government, like executive secretary, to be thought of as a position for women – something no man would ever do. We need to stop letting the challenges of being a woman get in the way of our success. We need to start speaking up instead of playing into stereotypes. We have to demand more.
So I challenge you to question how you are treated, not just as women but also as men. The challenges women face are ingrained in our society, but men also face the consequences of the stereotypes our society imposes. Change will not be come without both men and women demanding it.
So if there is any wisdom I can impart before I embark on my next journey, it is not that women should be treated equally, because that’s a given. But I hope to encourage you to challenge what society expects of you. Challenge yourself to do more and be better. Don’t follow everyone else, but be yourself.
Katrina Swarthout is a senior majoring in communication studies and minoring in German and public relations. She is the immediate past executive secretary for the SGA. This fall she will be attending the University of Southern California to pursue a masters in strategic public relations and be a student fellow for the Center of Public Diplomacy as well as a project associate for the journalism program.