Making History Personal
For these women, encouraging and empowering others is based in women’s history
By Rebecca Politzer, RWS graduate student
In celebration of Women’s History Month, two students and one lecturer share their inspiration and academic paths.
Honors Student Advocates for Women Through Work on Important Committees
Tuulia Candido (’21) is a political science major. She’s president of Ignite, an organization that advocates voting rights and empowers women to run for office. Last year, she worked at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC). At the WRC, Candido put together an environmental justice passion project.
Candido is a part of five honors societies, is also on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of Alpha Gamma Delta. Candido plans to go to law school, and recently received her first acceptance letter.
Kimberlé Crenshaw inspires Candido. She learned about Crenshaw in her Gender, Race, and Class course with Professor Ghosh (WMNST 536). This class explores and revolves around the intersection of gender, race, and class in local and global contexts, and the students in the class watched Crenshaw’s TED Talk. Crenshaw works as a civil rights lawyer, and is the founder of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies.
“I feel like, in the past, Women’s History Month was just focusing on gender issues. And now, because of women like Kimberlé Crenshaw, who talks about interlocking systems of oppression, it is not just about gender identity,” Candido said.
Candido believes that part of being in college is trying out different options and being as open-minded and as involved as you can. She follows her passion — and follows up on her passions. She attends many law organization meetings organized through the College of Arts and Letters.
“There are so many ways that you can have a successful career that you can be passionate about. There are options to do what you’re passionate about and what you really enjoy.”
Alum and Lecturer Focuses on Women in History
As a lecturer in the history department, Mary Stout’s goal is to make history personal and relevant for her students. At the beginning of each semester, she asks her students how they feel about history, and the response she hears is that they can’t relate to it. To make history more accessible, she teaches the story part of history.
Stout wants her students to be able to see themselves in the stories, so she diversifies what she teaches. “I really try to make sure that there’s something in there that the students can relate to — no matter who they are,” she said.
In teaching women’s history, “It’s important to teach women’s history not just to young women — my women’s history classes are populated with both males and females,” Stout said. “And, I think it’s important for everybody to learn about women’s history. It also allows us to have some pretty intense conversations.”
Stout encourages her students to think critically about the texts that they read in class and to ask thoughtful questions: Why is it that it took 72 years to pass women’s suffrage? Why did it take this long? Why didn’t men want women to have the vote? She helps students dig a bit deeper into societal issues and ideas about gender, race, socioeconomic issues, and issues of power.
“What I really want young women to understand is that the rights and the opportunities that they have today are so new. A lot of adult women my age and women a little older than I, were alive when women couldn’t get a credit card in their own name. We’ve only had the right — and only some of us — to vote for one hundred years. So many of these things that they might take for granted are so new. There are still certainly hurdles that we have, but a change in political climate could reverse this progress.”
Stout is currently one of the members of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee in the department of history. She’s also writing a chapter in an upcoming book on pirates in comics and is providing educational content for the website that will accompany a PBS documentary on the Peace Corps.
Stout volunteers at Old Town State History Park, teaching living history in period attire to the public. She also volunteers at the San Diego Maritime Museum, helping to edit their educational journal and developing new exhibits.
For Women’s History Month, Stout was invited by the U.S. Coast Guard to give a lecture on women and the sea — she’ll start with pirates and work her way up to today’s women admirals.
Nursing Student Pursues Passion, Works for Nonprofit Distributing Vaccines
Lisa Phan (‘22) believes that women have made a lot of progress. As a third-year nursing student with a psychology minor, she advocates for women’s rights especially in relation to reproductive justice, domestic violence, and making contraception and menstrual products more accessible.
Phan works with the nonprofit Champions for Health, affiliated with San Diego County, that currently distributes vaccines to underprivileged and underserved populations.
In April, Phan and two groupmates will discuss eugenics in relation to people with disabilities and reproduction. Phan will present a mini slideshow in conjunction with the Women’s Resource Center that will be posted to Instagram.
Phan feels strongly about the work that she does. “I can pursue my own passions — that’s been a really empowering thing,” she said.
Phan believes that financial independence plays a large role in women’s reproductive healthcare access.
The story of Henrietta Lacks inspires Phan. “I learned about Henrietta Lacks last year in my pharmacology class when we were discussing cancer medications. My professor introduced us to her and her contributions to cancer science.”
At just 31 years old, Henrietta Lacks passed away from cervical cancer. During her treatment, cell samples were taken without her knowledge or permission and given to a physician and cancer researcher. The cancerous cell sample became the source for the first immortalized human cell line that has led to several scientific breakthroughs.
“Her story highlights how many unrecognized contributions women have made throughout history. Women contribute so much knowledge — they just don’t get recognized at all,” Phan said.
The pandemic has helped Phan to self-reflect and think about what she wants out of life. While having a job that she loves is important, learning and developing her personal interests is also important. She believes in carving her own path.
“I want to encourage and empower women to choose whatever they want in life,” Phan said. “We are so fortunate that we have freedom of choice.” She encourages women to both dream big and to chase their dreams while remaining aware of the importance of financial independence.