Capt. Wendy B. Lawrence, a veteran of four space flights, speaks during the 16th Annual Women's Studies Conference at the University of West Florida.
Pensacola – The 16th annual Women’s Studies Conference at the University of West Florida featured multi-disciplinary presentations of academic papers, posters and artwork from students, along with an address from the first female graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy to fly into space.
“All of you are underscoring the importance of women, gender and sexuality studies, especially at a time when such importance is being called into question,” Sydney Stone, co-president of the UWF Women’s Studies Collective and one of the organizers of the conference, told attendees in her remarks that kicked off the daylong conference held March 24.
Sessions at the conference highlighted wide-ranging topics, such as “Speaking Taboos,” which included a presentation about breastfeeding in public. Other sessions that featured multiple speakers included “Women in Pop Culture,” Women in Art and Music” and “Women, Politics and Policy.”
Delivering the keynote address was Capt. Wendy B. Lawrence. A veteran of four space flights, Lawrence was also one of the first two female helicopter pilots to make a long deployment to the Indian Ocean as part of a carrier battle group.
Students who presented papers, posters and public service announcements at the conference represented a broad field of disciplines, including history, English, psychology and anthropology.
“It’s a really very interdisciplinary set of works, which is what we’re all about,” said Dr. Katherine Romack, an associate professor in the Department of English and the faculty sponsor of the UWF Women’s Studies Collective.
Submissions from both undergraduate and graduate students were presented. Romack said organizers especially encouraged incoming freshmen to present at the conference.
“It’s just nice for them to have a dialogue and for some of the older students to get to know the younger students and mentor them,” Romack said. “And a lot of those mentoring relationships come out of this, which is nice.”
Awards for the best presentations were also handed out at the conference. They were:
The award for Best Art Work was given to Samantha Early for “Venus of , Forgiving, and Outlook.” The award for best poster was presented to Larisa Salisbury, Bruce Beckett, Gaynelle Woods, Shelby May and Chandler Ball for “Attitudes Toward Infidelity among College Students.” Honorable mention was given to Rebecca Cote for her work “Gender is Power.”
Dr. Dione King, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work, was this year’s recipient of the Mary F. Rogers Women’s Studies Award, which is presented to the faculty member that makes the biggest contribution to women’s studies each year.
The award was named after Rogers, who was a professor at UWF who taught courses in feminist theory, social changes and reform, social justice and inequality.
King gave a presentation called “Dating violence as a health-risk behavior: Exploring the presence of dating violence in the lives of adolescents and young adult women.”
“My goal really as we move through this is that we are able to clearly see that dating violence is not something that only impacts one segment of the population,” King said as she opened her presentation.
In her evening keynote address, Lawrence said she aspired to be an astronaut since she was 10-years old, when she watched the first moon landing.
“When you’re at that age, you dream and you dream big,” Lawrence said. “You don’t think about all of the obstacles that you need to take to make that dream come true.
“You don’t get caught up with details, such as NASA has not selected any women yet as astronauts. Did I see anybody walking on the surface of the moon who looked like me? No. Because back then, flying in space was very much a man’s world. But when you’re young, you just dream.”
After Lawrence arrived at the U.S. Naval Academy, the atmosphere was not always welcoming to women. She remembered some of the male students yelling at her to “get out of my school” as she was walking back from class. Though it bothered her, she said it didn’t break her spirit.
“I just wanted the chance to prove myself. I didn’t want to be stereotyped,” she said. “I didn’t want a label attached to me, and I then didn’t want to be judged and defined by that label.”
Lawrence, who would eventually log more than 1,225 hours in space, said she remained focused on her goal to become an astronaut despite the occasional badgering from her male counterparts.
“That was the future that I envisioned,” she said. “Graduating from the Naval Academy with a degree in engineering, being commissioned as a naval officer, coming down to Pensacola for flight training, getting my wings, and eventually being selected by NASA as an astronaut. And that’s the vision that steeled my resolve.”