Women’s History Month at USC celebrates female pioneers and their stories

Events taking place during the yearlong tribute to the 50th anniversary of Title IX include a music festival, a movie screening and conversations featuring trailblazing women.

February 27, 2023 Greg Hernandez

USC’s celebration of Women’s History Month will begin on Wednesday with a livestreamed program titled “Celebrating Trailblazers and their Stories.”

Women’s History Month logoUSC President Carol L. Folt said the university has a long list of accomplished women throughout its history — including the university’s first valedictorian, Minnie Miltimore, in 1884. In addition, Folt noted the added significance of Women’s History Month coinciding with the university’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

“We need to honor and respect the trailblazers who got us here,” Folt said. “It’s fascinating to learn what they did, how they saw the world, their challenges and successes. It helps us understand their significant and lasting legacies.”

Folt said she knows students will be inspired by those who came before as they look to their own future. “Their voices have power,” she said. “They are the trailblazers of today.”

Wednesday’s kickoff event will feature remarks from Folt, faculty members and students who will pay tribute to Trojans who have broken glass ceilings, been at the forefront of their fields and paved the way for the women who have come after them.

The virtual program is the first in a campuswide series of Women’s History Month events that will take place throughout March, including a women’s conference, a music festival, a movie night, special conversations, and a daylong series of events focusing on art and creativity.

In addition to Folt, other speakers will include interim Vice President for Student Affairs Monique Allard, Associate Athletic Director Julie Rousseau and USC School of Dramatic Arts Dean Emily Roxworthy.

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism students Skyler Pak and Taylor Contarino will also be speaking. The duo created the #WeAreListening LIVE project, which honors and amplifies diverse voices in the USC Annenberg community.

This Women’s History Month is taking place during USC’s yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational program receiving funding from the federal government. Prior to 1972, USC did not have any sponsored athletics programs for women. Today, 12 of USC’s 21 collegiate athletics programs are for women’s sports, and the Women of Troy have won 36 national championships, including 25 NCAA titles.

“I’m about to turn 50 years old this year, and it’s taken the length of my lifetime to achieve these goals,” said Karen Tongson, professor of gender and sexuality studies, English and American Studies and ethnicity at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“It’s been kind of stunning to be growing alongside these tremendous changes in these 50 years.”

Title IX logoBut it was just days after USC held a major celebration of Title IX in June that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists after nearly 50 years. Tongson said that while disappointing, it was hardly surprising because “any time progress is made toward empowering women or anyone else who is part of the kind of power structures that are already baked into our histories, there will inevitably be backlash.”

The abortion ruling makes Women’s History Month even more important this year, according to Tongson, because it serves as a reminder of how hard-won each step forward has been.

“Each and every moment of progress has been matched by even bigger battles, and in certain instances, opportunities to try to roll everything back,” she said. “What we have to remember is that we have to be resourceful; we have to press on.”

Tongson said that while setbacks are frustrating, “we’re always in it for the long game” when it comes to women’s rights.

In the long game, sometimes, you may lose a quarter here, you may gain tremendously there. But the effort has to be sustained, it has to evolve.

Karen Tongson, USC Dornsife

“In the long game, sometimes, you may lose a quarter here, you may gain tremendously there,” she said. “But the effort has to be sustained, it has to evolve. One can hope for more enduring and lasting changes and impacts when we organize and persist.”

The nation has observed Women’s History Month during March every year since 1987 to celebrate the contributions of women to history, culture and society, and to encourage the study of that history.

The month grew out of a weeklong celebration organized by a school district in Sonoma County in 1978. Two years later, then-President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. In 1981, the U.S. Congress established a national celebration. Six years later, Congress expanded the event to the entire month of March.

USC Women’s History Month events

Below are some of the ways to celebrate Women’s History Month at USC:

USC Women’s History Month Kickoff (March 1): Everyone is invited to this virtual event during which USC President Carol L. Folt and other speakers will tell the stories of female trailblazers who have helped pave the way in various areas.

USC Women’s Conference 2023 (March 3): Members of the Trojan Family can register and attend this conference that brings together women, nonbinary and transgender people of all ages and backgrounds. Alums, parents, students and friends will take part in a day of programs and activities designed to inspire and empower them to create positive change in their personal lives, their communities and the world.

First Friday Movie Night: Hidden Figures (March 3): Be sure to bring your own blankets, towels and chairs to sit and enjoy this acclaimed 2016 biographical drama on Pardee Lawn. Hidden Figures is about three Black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race and stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.

Women in Politics: Martha Escutia in Conversation (March 7): Don’t miss USC Center for the Political Future Spring 2023 Fellow Martha Escutia discussing the role of women in politics and the challenges they face as leaders. Escutia, a former California legislator who is the first woman to chair both the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees, is USC vice president for state government relations and special counsel.

“Birds of No Nation” (March 8): This three-part series is an opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day by exploring the powerful role the arts and creativity play in global struggles for women’s rights. It kicks off with a live art session by Shamsia Hassani in Alumni Park. There will then be a one-hour creative workshop led by Afghan American multimedia artist Gazelle Samizay inside Doheny Memorial Library. The daylong series culminates with Afghan Women on Art, Gender, Freedom, and Exile, a conversation featuring Hassani and Samizay at the library.

USC FemFest 2023 (March 25): Enjoy live music, food, activities and more at USC’s annual counterpatriarchal music festival presented by USC SAGE (Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment). USC FemFest aims to be an inclusive, safe space for everyone to amplify the voices of women, people of color and those within the LGBTQ+ community. The outdoor event will take place on McCarthy Quad.

Young Women’s Leadership Conference (March 25): High school girls from the Los Angeles area will have the opportunity to meet with influential women in politics and business at this annual event that seeks to inspire deeper community involvement and public service.

Transforming Misogynoir: A Conversation (March 28): This public talk features Northwestern University Professor Moya Bailey, who coined the term “misogynoir” to describe misogyny directed toward Black women. This event is part of her residency at the USC Consortium for Gender, Sexuality, Race and Public Culture and the USC Dornsife Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies.