This year is the 125th anniversary of the first year that women attended this University.
It offers an opportunity to take a sobering look back on the path that led us here and turn our attention to the future.
At-the-time Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn University was the first higher level of education to admit women in 1892.
Then University President William Broun presided over the admittance of the first three women to Auburn, one being his daughter.
While it was an important and momentous step, it was extended to the most connected and affluent individuals and nowhere near the end of the collective struggle for women’s rights.
Women were subject to discriminatory campus rules that imposed controls such as curfews. It was not until 1921, boasting a total of 20 female students, when Auburn hired its first female professor.
In spite of these setbacks, exemplary women have continued to call Auburn their alma mater in the decades that have followed.
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On a daily basis, I witness the incredible women that are my fellow peers, mentors and colleagues.
The observation of the 125th year anniversary of women entering our University is, at a minimum, exciting.
However, it must not only be a celebration.
We have come a long way. We can recognize this while also recognizing the lasting impacts of a highly gendered society that harm women – and men.
The current struggle is made more difficult because, for the most part, the discrimination we experience is no longer legally permitted to be blatant.
We have simply moved from de jure to de facto discrimination. This does not make it any less real or a part of women’s everyday experiences.
Where are we today at Auburn?
Recent circulating “me, too” posts continue to remind us of the unfortunately high number of women around us that are subject to sexual violence. Reminders of the women that are routinely not believed and even blamed for their traumatic experiences.
Reminders of the criminal justice system that consistently fails victims of sexual crimes. It surrounds women everywhere, and we now have the institutional examples of the tragic incident on our Tiger Transit system and the allegations against our softball program.
Auburn sends us implicit messages through the make-up its administration. Our board of trustees boasts only two women when not counting the mandatory member on every public college or university’s governing board: Governor Kay Ivey.
Our new president, while incredibly competent, represents who has long been in charge at Auburn.
The deliberation over who will replace Timothy Boosinger as Provost will say a lot about our values as an institution if we do not seriously consider a woman for the position.
We may boast professors and students of many backgrounds and life experiences, but our administration does not reflect that.
We must simultaneously praise the strong women of the past and listen to the powerful women of the present.
Serious work regarding a widespread culture change regarding gender is necessary for Auburn to not only survive but thrive in the pursuit of values our creed reflects.
Despite our differences, collective action is crucial.
It begins with women collectively not accepting a status quo that works in the favor of one gender over another and certain groups of women over other groups.
It is sustained by an Auburn that works to extend its reach to all women – especially those who lack valuable social connections like being the daughter of the president and those may not resemble the individuals who have controlled our University for over a century.
The unintended setbacks of a highly gendered culture weren’t created in Auburn and extend far beyond it.
But we can start the conversation and let our 125th celebration serve as a reason to galvanize Auburn women and men to work towards passing on an improved baton rather than signal a finish line.
The views expressed in columns do not reflect the opinion of The Auburn Plainsman.
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