Adams State receives NSF grant to advance women faculty in the sciences

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a grant of $249,571 to support the three-year project, “Advancing Women in STEM through Institutional Transformation at Adams State University.” Funded by the NSF ADVANCE IT-Catalyst program, the project aims to increase diversity and gender equity among Adams State’s faculty in the social and behavioral sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics).

The resulting plan will include strategies to improve the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women faculty, and in particular of Latinas. By providing more role models, the program will ultimately inspire more young women to pursue careers in these fields.

“We are committed to building on Adams State University’s history and present commitment to inclusive excellence. This institutional transformation development project supports the goals of our ASU 2020 strategic plan,” said project director Dr. Chris Gilmer, vice president for Academic Affairs. “The resulting plan will help us build a more diverse faculty in STEM and the social and behavioral sciences.”

The project dovetails with work done by Adams State’s Title V projects and CIELO group to address diversity and equity issues. As a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), the university has been awarded several Title V grants, with five now underway. CIELO is Adams State’s Community for Inclusive Excellence, Leadership & Opportunity.

The ADVANCE project will be devoted to institutional self-assessment, review and revision of university policies and procedures, and implementation of a faculty mentoring initiative. It will identify best practices, share research results, and develop approaches to advancing faculty diversity. Gilmer noted the project’s results will benefit disciplines across campus.

By Julie Waechter

Welcome to the 2016 Fall Semester

Hello and welcome to another semester at Adams State University. We want you to have a wonderful and successful semester. Therefore, check back often for updates and information to help assist you in making a difference and succeeding during your time here.

Below are a few links to some great information about Adams State:

Adams State to celebrate HSI week click here to read more

Zacheis Planetarium has new movies with various show times all semester click here to see schedule

Check out the C.A.S.A. it’s Adams State’s Cultural Awareness and Student Achievement Center. You’ll find great food and make great friends. It’s a house that feels like home. It’s where strangers become friends and friends become family. C.A.S.A. is located on the northwest corner of the library parking lot. Click here to see more info.


Welcome to the 2015 Fall Semester!

Checkout what’s New at ASU

While everyone was off enjoying their summer there was quite a lot of changes happening at Adams State University (ASU).

ASU’s first female President

Thus far the buzz around campus is that Dr. Beverlee McClure is going to get things done. She is already scheduled to be a guest speaker for the new Women and Power business class. She has also been asked to speak at the next conference for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Click here to read more about her

Richardson Hall finished

Also, Richardson Hall has finally been completed and all the administrative offices have moved into their new locations. Stop by and take a look at this beautiful building on our campus. The next building to be renovated will be east campus. Plans are in the works for the much needed renovation of that building.

C.A.S.A. hosts many events this semester

ASU’s Cultural Awareness and Student Achievement Center (C.A.S.A.) has big plans for this semester. They will be hosting Hispanic Heritage Week September 12-20th. Itzel Luna, a vocalist from Cabo San Lucas will be performing on October 13th in Leon Memorial at 7pm.

As an annual tradition C.A.S.A. will also be having Friday Luncheons beginning August 28th and going on for the entire semester. Stop by and eat lunch one Friday and then help cook lunch one Friday. This tradition of students, faculty, and staff feeding each other has created a feeling of HOME at the cultural center.

C.A.S.A. Director, Oneyda Maestas will be teaching zumba classes at the REX, which has a NEW look; a brand new renovated and private space with built in fan! Class days and times are Tuesday and Thursday 5:30-6:30 pm. Oneyda’s Zumba class offers a combination of dance and fitness moves choreographed to a background of exhilarating, energetic and fun international rhythms. Oneyda offers beginning, intermediate and advanced dance/fitness moves in every song so that each individual can exercise at his/her fitness level. It is a great cardio exercise that specifically targets movement to the mid-section as well as to the muscles in the upper/middle/lower zoned sections of the body.Wear comfortable, loose, light clothing as you will SWEAT! Wear comfortable footwear (tennis shoes). Bring water bottle to stay hydrated. The class is free to students/faculty/staff with appropriate ID.

Oneyda will also be teaching Black Belt Salsa Classes. The Kick-off for these classes will be at Juanito’s Restaurant NO CHARGE! Tuesday, August 25, 2015 from 7:00-8:30 pm. The address is 1019 6th St Alamosa, CO 81101 (one block behind Domino’s headed east on 6th Street). The rest of the classes will be held at the REX Activity Center beginning 9/1 (every Tuesday), from 6:45 pm-8:15 pm. The rate to drop in is $10. An $8 per class pass is available for purchase. There is a Special rate for full-time students (talk to instructor, Oneyda Maestas).

Domestic Violence Symposium

The counseling services is also planning a Domestic Violence Symposium. This one-day conference features nationally renowned keynote speaker, Jean Kilbourne, and sessions designed to provide service providers and professionals with quality, local training and learning opportunities on domestic violence. Breakfast and lunch will be provided for registrants.

Empower U hosts Disc Golf

Empower U disc golf will be played every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. during the Fall 2015 Semester. They have extra discs for you to borrow, or you can purchase your own at Walmart, Amazon, or other retailers. To get to the course take State Ave. north out of Alamosa past the ball golf course to the T junction. Turn left at the stop sign to continue on North River Road. In .4 miles turn left on dirt road (disc golf sign on tree). Continue another .5 miles to the parking lot at end of road.

Check out other Empower U offerings

Women’s Week male panel event

A letter about Women’s  Week panel discussion


After women’s week was over I received a disturbing email from someone who was highly against the discussion event that took place with an all-male panel. This person stated “what the hell do men know about being feminists.” Since the person who wrote this email didn’t actually attend the event and didn’t hear what the panelists had to say I decided write this letter in response to their comment.

The men’s discussion panel event “This is what a Feminist looks like” took place on Monday night, 6 pm. In McDaniel Hall, room 101 as part of women’s week. The panel consisted of Dr. Benjamin Waddell, Dr. Jeff Elison, Dr. Nick Saenz, Dr. Matt Nehring, and ASU Student Evan Gibson. Dr. Stephanie Hilwig was in charge of this particular Women’s Week event. Dr. Hilwig chose this event to showcase they ways in which men can be and are feminists, as well as the reasons behind their feminist activities. Her reasons behind this event were motivated by personal experiences that many women face on a daily basis that harm women.

On a daily basis some men engage in active harm by creating policies that hurt or limit women. They also consciously or unconsciously engage in everyday sexism that harms women. On a daily basis men also engage in passive harm against women, by not standing up for women when they see an injustice. The panelists discussed the powerful impact of their relationships with their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, female friends, and colleagues. It is these relationships that motived them toward active facilitation to help raise the status of women. I would like to emphasized that these men were not doing things for women, not being the knight in shining armor coming to the rescue, but standing next to women, working with women to make the world a better place for women. They did this out of a genuine care for women, because of the women in their own lives.

It is my opinion that we can’t change the planet for more than half of the world’s population without involving the other half in the conversation. This event did a good job of addressing that issue. We want men to stop the passive and active harm against women. We want men to move beyond passive facilitation to active facilitation, like this panel of men have done. This is why the panel event was part of women’s week.

ASU Women’s Blog (during women’s week)

Today we are featuring some articles that have been written about ASU women’s week.


Student writes about link to domestic violence in 5o shades of Grey for ASU Women’s Week

ASU to celebrate its second annual ASU Women’s Week

Dr. Mari Centeno to speak about women leaders around the world for ASU Women’s Week

Brenda Romero speaks about female voices in music for ASU Women’s Week

Musical theater to feature “Tres Vidas” performance as first event for ASU Women’s Week

 Women’s Voices in Art show as part of ASU Women’s Week


2015 Women’s Week schedule

2015 Women’s Week will be held March 6th – 14th

womens week banner 2015

  • THEME: “We Have A Voice,” celebrating the diverse voices of women because each voice is important and powerful
  • BANNER CONTEST: We had a contest during the fall semester, for the best design to be used as our second annual Women’s Week banner. We received 17 entries. A big “thank you” to everyone who entered; it was not easy to choose a winner. The criteria was that the banner design had to portray this year’s theme of “We Have A Voice.” A scholarship of $300 for ASU’s spring semester will be awarded to the winner, Tessie Pikula.
    • Week-Long Events
      • Week-long book display of feminist books in Nielsen Library
      • Week-long clothesline project (create a t-shirt expressing your experiences with–and views on–sexual and domestic violence). T-shirts and art supplies will be available in the conference room at C.A.S.A. or in the SUB Mall Court
      • Week-long art show, “Women’s Voices in Art,” at the Hatfield Gallery
    • Tres Vidaas performance
      • Date: Friday March 6th
      • Location: Richardson Hall
      • Time: 6:30 pm
      • Event is free but donations are appreciated
      • The performance is based on the lives of three legendary Latin American women: renowned Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Salvadoran peasant-activist Rufina Amaya and poet Alfonsina Storni of Argentina.
    • International Women’s Day Event
      • Date: Saturday March 7th
      • Location: Porter Hall
      • Time: A day-long event
        • Music and dancers
        • Comedians
        • Student presentations
        • And much more!
      • Engage the Rage: Poetry Reading Followed By a Poetry Slam
        • Date: Sunday March 8th
        • Location: The ROAST (Alamosa, main street)
        • Time: 6 pm
          • $50 prize for poetry reading winner (best poem, original work)
          • $50 prize for poetry slam winner (best performance, does not have to be original work)
          • Come express your rage about women’s issues and let your voice be heard
        • Panel Discussion
          • Date: Monday March 9th
          • Locaton: MCD 101
          • Time: 6 pm
          • Panelists: Dr. Benjamin Waddell, Dr. Jeff Elison, Dr. Nick Saenz, Dr. Matt Nehring, and ASU Student Evan Gibson
          • Topic: “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like”
        • Movie Night
          • Date: Tuesday March 10th
          • Location: MCD 101
          • Time: 6 pm
          • Movie: The Wonder Woman Documentary
          • $25 Walmart gift card for best Wonder Woman Costume
        • Kindred Spirits Luncheon
          • Date: Wednesday March 11th
          • Location: SUB Banquet rooms
          • Time: noon
          • Topic: “Everyday Sexism”
        • Faculty Lecture
          • Date: Wednesday March 11th
          • Location: Porter Hall room 130
          • Time: 7 pm
          • Lecturer: Dr. Mari Centeno
          • Topic: “Current Women Leaders Throughout the World”
        • Guest Lecture
          • Date: Thursday March 12th
          • Location: MCD 101
          • Time: 6 pm
          • Guest Lecturer: Dr. Brenda Romero
          • Topic: “Hispanic Women’s Voices in Music”
        • C.A.S.A Luncheon
          • Date: Friday March 13th
          • Location: C.A.S.A. (North west corner of the Nielson Library parking lot)
          • Time: noon
          • The men on campus will be cooking for the women on campus. Come enjoy free food, conversation, and get a women’s week bracelet.
        • Take Back the Night
          • Date: Friday March 13th
          • Location: Student Union Building (SUB) Mall Court
          • Time: 6 pm for talk/forum on sexual and domestic violence. Share your stories, experiences, poetry, and advice, and listen to others.
          • Time: 7 pm take back the night walk through Alamosa and ASU Campus
        • STEM Saturday “Girls Only” Science Event
          • Date: Saturday March 14th
          • Location Porter Hall
          • Time: 9 am – noon
          • Topic: So you think you can’t math, Raquel Barata, visiting assistant professor of mathematics, grades 6-8; enrollment cap is 16

College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches

College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches

By Pat Griffin

Right before the holidays, Shannon Miller, the women’s ice hockey coach at University of Minnesota Duluth, got some disturbing news: Despite the fact that she is a medal-winning Olympic coach, a five-time NCAA national championship-winning coach and one of the most successful female coaches in college sports, the Duluth Athletic Director and University Chancellor notified her that her contract would not be renewed at the end of this season. The reason? Her salary is too high. UMD is experiencing some financial problems and they decided that not renewing Coach Miller’s contract as well as those of her staff would be a reasonable decision to help balance the budget.

Never mind that the men’s hockey coach, who has been less successful and makes more money than Shannon Miller does, still has his job and his comfortable salary (Read Nicole Lavoi’s and Kris Newhall’s break down of this situation for more information).

This outrageous decision and the sketchy rationale for it are grounds for a sex discrimination lawsuit all on their own. Placed in the context of a disturbing trend in the diminishing number of women coaches and the treatment of the women in athletics over the last several years, this decision has more far reaching consequences for college women’s athletics. Shannon Miller is the latest in a series of experienced and successful women in athletics to not have her contract renewed, to resign under pressure from administrators, to resign in protest of sex discrimination, to be fired or to be forced into early retirement. These women represent a tip of the iceberg because they have filed lawsuits challenging their treatment.

Many other women in athletics whose names we do not know receive similar treatment but choose to quietly leave athletics, rather than subject themselves to the public attention and stress accompanying a lawsuit. The list of discrimination lawsuits filed on behalf of women in athletics I cite here is far from complete, but highlights this disturbing pattern of sex and sexual orientation discrimination in college athletics:

  • 2007 –Fresno State University: Women’s volleyball coach, Lindy Vivas; women’s basketball coach, Stacy Johnson-Klein; women’s softball coach, Margie Wright; and athletic administrator, Diane Milutinovich sued and won settlements charging the university with sex discrimination, discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation and creating a hostile climate for women.
    2007 –University of California Berkeley: Former women’s swim coach and athletic administrator Karen Moe Humphreys charged the university with sex discrimination after her contract was not renewed. Moe, who had complained about the school’s failure to abide by Title IX, charged the university with retaliation, creating a hostile climate for women and sex discrimination.
    • 2007 – San Diego State University:Swim coach, Deena Deardruff Schmidt, charged the university with sex discrimination and retaliation after her contract was not renewed following her complaints about inequities in the men’s and women’s athletic programs.
    • 2008 – Florida Gulf Coast University: Women’s golf coach, Holly Vaughn and women’s volleyball coach, Jaye Flood won a lawsuit settlement after charging the university with retaliatory discrimination and defamation (they were released) because they complained about sex discrimination in the treatment of men’s and women’s athletic programs.
    • 2008 Mesa College: Women’s basketball coach, Lorri Sulpizio and director of women’s basketball operations, Cathy Bass, sued the college for sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in the men’s and women’s programs. They won a monetary settlement in the case.
    • 2010 – Belmont College: Women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, was let go after the coach told her team that she and her partner, Wendy, were having a baby. Belmont is a private Christian school and did not provide protection against discrimination for LGBT employees.
    • 2011 – University of Minnesota: Women’s golf coach, Katie Brenny, filed a sex and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit against the university charging that her duties were significantly reduced and she was essentially relegated to a secretarial position after the golf director found out she was a lesbian. He then hired his son-in-law to replace Brenny as the women’s coach. Brenny overwhelmingly won the lawsuit in 2014.
    • 2012 University of Tennessee: Jenny Moshak, Debby Jennings and Heather Mason charged the university athletic department with sex discrimination in salaries and benefits. They also charged that they were passed over for leadership positions for which they were highly qualified in sports information, athletic training and health and wellness when the men’s and women’s athletic programs merged. In addition, the lawsuit alleges sex discrimination in the treatment of men’s and women’s athletic teams. This case is on-going.
    • 2013 – University of Texas: Women’s track and field coach, Bev Kearney was told to resign or be fired for having a consensual sexual relationship with one of the women on her team. She filed a sex and race discrimination lawsuit claiming that male coaches who had sexual relationships with female students were either not disciplined at all or received lighter punishments and retained their jobs.
    • 2014 – University of Iowa: Tracey Griesbaum, long-time women’s field hockey coach (the fifth Iowa woman coach let go in the last five years) was fired following an internal investigation of charges made by an unspecified number of unnamed athletes that she was verbally abusive. After an internal investigation, Griesbaum was cleared of all charges, but fired anyway. The athletic director has offered no reason for her firing. Griesbaum is a lesbian and her partner, an athletic administrator at Iowa, has been reassigned outside of athletics in anticipation of a lawsuit.
    • 2015 – University of Minnesota Duluth: I am confident that Shannon Miller will be filing a lawsuit in the near future.

I believe that the public rationale offered by athletic administrators for their decisions in each of these cases masks a deeper and more fundamental problem in college athletics: misogyny, sexism and homophobia. This trifecta of hostility towards women in athletics is made more threatening in an athletic climate in which financial resources are strained to the max and athletic administrators in schools large and small buy into the pipe dream of cultivating big time football (and men’s basketball) as the salvation of cash strapped athletic departments (Only about 20 schools, all in the Football Bowl Subdivision, actually make more money than they spend on athletics).

For years, Title IX and women’s sports have served as scapegoats for the demise of men’s Olympic sports in college athletics as in, “We had to drop our men’s wrestling/swimming/gymnastics teams in order to comply with Title IX.” Athletic directors have been happy to pit the interests of these “non-revenue producing” men’s teams against the interests of all women’s teams rather than take responsibility for their decisions to cut these men’s teams instead of trimming fat from the bloated budgets and salaries supporting football and men’s basketball.

Now, men’s Olympic sports are gone in many schools and women’s sports are on the chopping block. Title IX prevents athletic directors from easily cutting women’s sports as they did with men’s Olympic sports, but there are still ways to cut costs by undermining women’s sports and women in athletics. Getting rid of veteran successful women coaches, especially ones who fight for equality for women in sport, clears the way to hire younger, less experienced, perhaps more compliant coaches at lower salaries. It also affords the opportunity to hire a man to coach women’s teams (only about 40 percent of women’s college teams are actually coached by women now).

Some common elements in these lawsuits are that the women targeted for discrimination are mostly experienced professionals with successful records of accomplishment as athletes and coaches, yet that experience and success does not protect women from discrimination. In fact, it is often devalued as these women are overlooked for leadership positions as at the University of Tennessee or let go because their salary is too high as at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Many of the women who filed these lawsuits had the audacity to challenge sex discrimination in the school’s treatment of women’s sports and coaches. That they were then fired, defamed or released from their positions looks a lot like retaliation for their advocacy for gender equity in athletics.

In other cases, a double standard is applied in which women are treated differently than men. This appears to be so at Iowa where charges of abusive verbal behavior were unsubstantiated, but Griesbaum still lost her job. In contrast, the Iowa football coach engaged in coaching practices that threatened the health of players and the men’s basketball coach lost his temper and slammed a chair during a game, but both men still have their jobs and received only mild reprimands. Shannon Miller, though well paid as a successful woman coach, still earns less than the men’s ice hockey coach at UMD. Yet she is the one let go for having a salary that is too high. This is despite her offer to renegotiate her contract at a lower salary. Bev Kearney was asked to resign or be fired while a male coach who had a relationship with a student kept his job.

Several of the women in these cases are lesbians. Lorrie Supizio at Mesa, Lisa Howe at Belmont and Katie Brenny at the University of Minnesota were subjected to blatant discrimination by school athletic administrators based on their sexual orientation. Bev Kearney’s ill-advised relationship with a student on her team was allegedly treated in an entirely different manner than the university’s response to a male coach involved with a female student team manager. The Fresno lawsuit alleged that male administrators actually cheered losses by teams they believed were coached by lesbians because it would make it easier to get rid of them.

The cases of Tracey Griesbaum and Shannon Miller represent a more subtle kind of discrimination in which lesbian coaches face a double whammy. In addition to being devalued as a female coach and subjected to sex discrimination, lesbian coaches face the hostility of athletic directors who appear to be waiting for any reason, no matter how implausible, to use as a pretext for getting rid of a successful lesbian coach. At Iowa, the reason is a murky and unsubstantiated charge of verbally abusive behavior. At Minnesota Duluth, a financial crisis provides the opportunity to get rid of Shannon Miller.

Several of the women in these cases describe an “unhealthy” athletic department climate of “fear” or “hostility” in which women coaches and women’s leadership are devalued in which women administrators are afraid to speak up to challenge double standards or to support women coaches. In the Fresno State case, male athletic staff actually held “Ugly Woman Athlete” competitions and warned straight female coaches not to associate with female coaches on “the other team” meaning lesbians. At Minnesota her male replacement openly ridiculed Brenny as a lesbian with members of the women’s golf team.

All of these women have refused to accept discrimination (with the exception of Lisa Howe who had no legal grounds to sue). They have refused to leave quietly hoping to find another position in a more hospitable climate for women in athletics. By filing lawsuits they are calling public attention to a persistent problem in college athletics. Unfortunately, taking this courageous stand jeopardizes their opportunities to find future work in athletics. It is possible that other male athletic directors will be reluctant to hire women labeled “troublemakers” who insist that we look at the depth and persistence of sexism and homophobia in college athletics (Only 8 percent of Division 1 schools have women athletic directors, according to Richard Lapchick).

The patterns we see by looking at these lawsuits together paint an ugly picture for young women who might be interested in college athletics as a career. The message is, as a woman coach, you are a second class citizen subject to a double standard in which your success and experience will not protect you from discrimination. In fact, these accomplishments might even contribute to being targeted for discrimination. If you are a lesbian coach, the message is, you better watch your back, keep it on the down low and even if you do stay in the closet, when athletic administrators want to come for your job, they will find a reason to justify their action.

This is a pretty dismal message for women in college athletics. It is pretty dismal message for college athletics in general which often seems to have sold its soul in pursuit of the elusive goal of a football program that operates in the black. The first step in combating this war on women coaches is to make the connections. We must refuse to see each of these lawsuits as isolated incidents of discrimination. We must begin to acknowledge the pattern of sexism, misogyny and homophobia so ingrained in college athletics that it makes this war on women in athletics possible.

It may be that the only way to change athletics is to continue to file discrimination lawsuits. If money is the most important factor in college athletics today, let’s continue to make schools pay for condoning and supporting discrimination. Defending a school against these lawsuits is a costly and losing proposition. In every one of the cases I note here that have been adjudicated, the women won, either in court or in settlements by schools to avoid the court room. Colleges and universities are paying out millions of dollars as a result of sexism, homophobia and misogyny in athletics and reaping lots of negative media attention in the process. If that is the only way to get the attention of college and university leaders, so be it.

The war on college women coaches has got to stop.


Pat is Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Strong Women, Deep Closets: Lesbians and Homophobia in Sport. She is also an activist and educator. This articles was originally printed in The Huffington Post, it is reprinted here with permission.


A Freedom Letter: Slut-shaming and Our Collective Scarlet Letter

“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”

Chapter XVIII, ‘A Flood of Sunshine’ The Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850, is a story that still resonates with the experiences of many women today.  Hester’s scarlet letter is the equivalent of the slut shaming that too many women experience every day.  While it may seem that slut shaming is about the inappropriate sexual behaviors of women, it is rather a representation of our scorn and disdain for women we seek to control.  It is a form of misogyny.  As women, many of us have been given our symbolic scarlet letter.  Mine was “earned” shortly after my husband died a few years ago.  My crime?  Dating again after his death.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a story about the public shaming of a young woman, Hester Prynne, who has a baby out of wedlock.  She is assumed to be a widow, as Hester has not seen or heard from her husband in years.  Everyone, including Hester, believes he died at sea, many years before.  Hester refuses to name her lover and is publically punished by being forced to stand at the town scaffold for several hours, jailed briefly and then required to wear a scarlet ‘A’ for adulteress, embroidered into her dress.  The story has a twist.  One man in town seems particularly bent on punishing Hester.  Roger Chillingsworth, an elderly doctor and scientist who suddenly appears in town at Hester’s public punishment becomes single-mindedly focused on persecuting Hester and discovering her secret lover.  He confronts Hester and she recognizes him as her former husband.  It turns out she was not so much widowed as she was abandoned.  He threatens her to keep it a secret so he can assume an alternate identity best able to discover her secret lover and exact revenge on them both.  While Chillingsworth devotes himself to this task, Hester moves to the outskirts of town and lives out her life in quiet solitude.

In the years following, a local minister named Dimmesdale, who quietly tries to help Hester and her daughter, becomes fraught with illness.  Chillingsworth deduces that Dimmesdale must be her secret lover and is experiencing illness in response to his shame and anguish over Hester’s situation.  Upon his discovery, Chillingsworth can now target Dimmesdale as well as Hester for revenge.  Without giving away too many details, Chillingsworth spends his years sabotaging the lives of Hester and Dimmesdale, but eventually dies as a result of his anger, pettiness and derision.  This book is as much about the effect revenge has on Chillingsworth as he slowly loses his heart and soul to his single minded quest to punish Hester and Dimmesdale, as it is about Hester, who rises above the scorn to live a long life devoted to the poor and others in need.  In short, this book is about what revenge and shaming are capable of doing to us all.

My story, although painfully personal, reflects what thousands of other women experience every day.  More than two years ago, my husband died in a car accident.  My four-year-old daughter and six-year-old son were in the car and were nearly killed.  During surgery, my daughter came within moments of dying from severe internal injuries.  Her heart went into tachycardia and she required epinephrine directly to the heart in combination with chest compressions to save her life.  She was unconscious for five days following the surgery.  It was during this time when I learned that my husband caused the accident.  He was driving more than 30 miles above the speed limit as he was passing cars on a two lane mountain road.

My children struggled through a long slow recovery, but they are both doing quite well now.  As for myself, in the months that followed I began my own emotional recovery, which was aided enormously by a long-term friend of mine, who, five months later I began dating. This individual, who was also a close friend of my late husband, stepped in to help me with the children.

Although my personal decision to begin dating again should have been a private decision, left to me and my children, friends of my husband, upset by our relationship, began to publically accuse us of adultery.  While Hester Prynne had Chillingsworth, I had my own attackers.  I was accused of cheating on my late husband and violating that relationship.  My accusers jumped to the conclusion that our relationship began earlier than it had and publically accused us of such.  The consequences of these accusations have impacted every aspect of my life.  My scarlet letter has threatened my career, cost me friendships, stripped me of my credibility, and saddened my family and children.  But the biggest cost has been to the memories of my marriage to my late husband.  I now find myself struggling to view him as the man who loved, supported, and trusted me.  Instead, he has become the man whose unfounded jealousy put me on the firing line the night before he nearly took from me the two people I love most in this world.

To understand this heartbreak, it is important to know that my husband was dealing with a terminal heart condition.  My life before the accident was devoted to keeping him alive.  I slept in hospitals, taught extra online classes to pay for his medical bills, drove back and forth to Denver continually (a four hour drive each way), sometimes three or four times a week to care for him – all while taking care of our young children.  I worked nonstop as wife, mother, nurse, and professor, but despite every sacrifice I made for him, in the end, his declining health resulted in insecurity and jealousy.  Sadly, this is not a problem that can be remedied.  He is gone.  I cannot go to him and tell him I would do anything for him.  I cannot reassure him that I loved him unconditionally.  With him gone, I can only move on. Unfortunately, however, thanks to those who gave me my scarlet letter, I have been forced to forge ahead without my husband’s trust and love.  In essence, they took from me all the loving memories of our marriage.  And so it is that I live out my life with a scarlet letter attached to my name for an affair I never had.

If my scarlet letter were an isolated event, this story would not need to be told.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Working as a college professor, I frequently see the impact slut-shaming has on our young female college students.  Many of them experience similar levels of systematic shame every day.  Leona Tanenbaum writes about this eloquently in her book Slut! Growing up Female with a Bad Reputation and her recently published I am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet.  What are women doing to earn the title “Slut”?  Dating, going out, talking to boys, dressing attractively, going through puberty, and expressing what is often a healthy sense of sexuality.  Like me, rarely are women guilty of the actions for which they are accused.  Women are targeted if they deviate from the rigid boundaries defining women’s femininity. Their punishment spurs insecurity, depression, isolation, and in the worst of cases, tragic suicides.

Tanenbaum writes about the double standard for men and women, and the impossible expectations that women remain attractive, sexy, and friendly – without crossing any boundaries into sexuality that may earn them the title of Slut.  This tight-rope is an often impossible requirement for women.  On the one hand, they are chastised for being prudish, uptight or butch; while on the other they are admonished for being a slut and a “ho.”  In nearly fifteen years as a professor I have had to console numerous girls crying in my office.  I’ve even seen girls who felt forced to transfer to a new school in an attempt to escape their label.  Their “crimes” are no more fitting of punishment than mine.  But they are nonetheless forced to bear the weight of their scarlet letter.

Too many times we blame it on the small town atmosphere, but this problem follows women everywhere.   This problem has only been magnified in the age of the Internet, where idle gossip can spread from cellphone to cellphone in the blink of an eye.  Facebook posts spread like wildfire.  Applications like Yik Yak mean that people can post cruel and harmful gossip with complete anonymity.  And all too often, young women are the victims.

Sometimes, even feminists fall into the model of slut-shaming other women.  They have mistakenly fallen into the misconception that removing our sexuality from our identity is the path to equality.  For other women, shaped by male-driven media, their sexuality is nothing more than a form of self-objectification.  But we must remember that the control we exert over women’s sexuality is a form of objectification, not their sexuality itself.  After all, men are not objectified when we grant them freedom of sexual expression.  Make no mistake about it; attacking women by judging their personal sex lives is a form of sexism and misogyny.  It assumes their personal lives are our purview to control, rather than theirs to own.  It decreases their status and harms their credibility.  Men don’t suffer the same loss of status.   We do not slut shame men.  They do not receive a scarlet letter.  Shaming is not about sex, it is about power.  In The Scarlet Letter, Chillingsworth is more motivated by his loss of power over Hester than by his concern over her sexual relationship. So too has been my experience in the wake of my late husband’s death.

Ultimately, we must remember that slut-shaming is a mechanism of social control.  To control a woman’s sexuality is to control her power.  Some cultures physically maim the bodies of women through genital mutilation and we, the Western world, label such acts as barbaric. However, we habitually mutilate the self-esteem and character of women, and although we generally fail to recognize it, such acts are just as barbaric.  The outcome is the same.  Women fear expressing themselves, following their hearts, and making decisions that are best for themselves, their lives and their souls.  Unfortunately, the sad twist is that to control women’s sexuality often means the creation of a rape culture.  If women can be blamed for all of the problems of sexuality, men are given license to wield their self-proclaimed power.  This is why we often see that the same boys who pursue women, make passes at them, and whistle at them as objects are the same boys who throw the gauntlet when they have been refused.  Rape and slut-shaming go hand-in-hand.  They both diminish the power of women and strip them of their right to determine what happens to their own bodies.

I live in the same shoes as Hester Prynne. I wear my own symbolic scarlet letter. But I am not alone.  Too many other women are wearing their own scarlet letter.  If we truly want to achieve a position where women don’t fear rape, sexual control, and public condemnation, we have to start by dismantling the overreaching social control we have embedded into women’s sexuality. And our path begins by stepping out of the shadows, speaking out, and ultimately, removing the scarlet letters we assign to women.

So, write your own freedom letter. Thrust aside your scarlet letter and in doing so, know that you are not alone.



Sociology club meeting


The sociology club will be meeting this Thursday September 18th, 2014 at 4:30 pm. in McDaniel Hall (MCD) 306. They will be discussing several women’s issues.