Illinois Valley Community College student Ashley Frederick takes care of her three children in the morning, then heads to work for the day and school at night.
The 34-year-old, first-generation college student was not alone Wednesday in a room of roughly 40 other women during the “Women of IVCC” event, many of whom also know the challenges of juggling school, work and child care.
She received applause, saying she’s achieved a 4.0 grade-point average.
“A support system is key,” she said, pointing in the room to Jean Batson-Turner, human services coordinator for IVCC, as a mentor.
Originally scheduled in March as part of Women’s History Month, the showcase Wednesday afternoon organized by English instructor Nora Villarreal focused on persistent and dedicated women — whether faculty, students, staff, administrators or community members — who helped shape the community college.
Villarreal asked women around campus about the difficulties and challenges they have faced, about the women who have influenced them and the advice they’d give to other women, among other questions. She compiled the answers into a short film that also highlighted prominent women in IVCC’s history.
Pay inequalities, being the only woman in a class and harassment were among some of the challenges given as answers.
The most common answer regarding an influential figure, for example, was “mom.”
The most common advice was to “support other women” and “speak up.”
After the video, Villarreal opened the event to discussion, focusing on some of the questions she asked in the surveys presented in the video.
Batson-Turner said she has lived in the South and witnessed firsthand stereotypes that linger there post-slavery and post-Civil Rights era, and she said they still exist everywhere in some form today.
“We’re dealing with the same damn issues,” she said.
She works with students who have gone through harassment and abuse, and she emphasized the value in support systems and speaking up when something is wrong.
Faculty members praised student mothers who have returned to school, despite working 40-hour jobs. They also celebrated stories of those who have overcome obstacles and challenges.
“Every obstacle is an opportunity, an opportunity to do something and learn,” said Deborah Anderson, vice president of academic affairs, during the discussion. “ ... As long as you stay open to what it is, and try to see obstacles as opportunities, and go through the process, that’s when you grow and become a stronger, better person.”
Angela Stevenson, an IVCC board member, spoke up about being intimidated to run for election against three other men, but she persisted and earned the most votes of everyone in the race.
“Be who you are,” Stevenson advised students in the room, taking the cue from her mother-in-law.
One student spoke up about being realistic about the challenges each person faces and recognizing privilege when it’s present.
“Recognizing privilege can be an opportunity for growth,” Villarreal said. “Be an ally.”