Our Story Our Voice gets students talking about gender

Veronica Madell, Staff Reporter

“Would you like a sticker and a high five?” Kat Taylor, a fourth-year chemical biology and environmental studies major and member of the Interfraternity Congress-Panhellenic Council, cheerfully asked a passersby this past Friday at Kelvin Smith Library Oval. “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys played in the background as students on their way to and from class stopped to talk about gender. The snacks, stickers and Taylor’s famous high-fives drew them in, but real dialogue kept students engaged. On a foam board, students wrote things that empower them, from “my friends” to “prayer” to “my self-worth.” Below the board were scattered pieces of broken wood. On these, students wrote insecurities that they broke in half, smashing and discarding the toxic thoughts that held them back.

This is Our Story Our Voice (OSOV), a week-long event put on by the Panhellenic Council, the governing body of all sororities at Case Western Reserve University. Taylor defined OSOV as a chance to think “about femininity in our culture: what do we associate with the feminine and why?” 

Taylor asked, “Are those associations positive, do we still want them there? If not, what is our role as people in society, members of a college campus and potential leaders in changing that?”

OSOV was started in 2017 by Erin Buttars, a senior member of the Panhellenic Council, as her capstone project. Buttars found that there was no place at CWRU to talk about femininity and its implications, so she created one. In its first year, OSOV started with the hashtag #breathefire. Buttars wanted dialogue to start and spread. In the following years, each new organizer made their own hashtag to represent that year’s OSOV. In 2018, it was #limitless to address the glass ceiling, and this year, Holly Sirk, fourth-year material science and engineering major and Panhellenic Council president, chose #unstoppable.

Sirk chose #unstoppable “to talk about the barriers for females in our society and how to not let them stop us.” While planning the event, Sirk also wanted to address the gap in leadership between men and women. Lining the Binary Walkway are OSOV yard signs with facts that depict this divide: while the first sign shows female progress with the fact, “Females have outnumbered males on college campuses since 1988,” the last sign shows the still existing gap in leadership as “Globally, females hold just 24% of senior leadership positions.” OSOV is about getting students to read these facts and talk about them. As Taylor says, it is “encouraging people to think about small parts of their day and large parts of our society.”

OSOV decided to primarily focus on the feminine side of gender because, as Taylor explained, “it is a meaningful thing to come together around. Gender defines so much of how we are perceived in society; what roles we are supposed to play. We can explore this and empower each other.”  However, Sirk added that this event was also open to allies. The inclusiveness of this event was apparent at the pop-up in KSL Oval, as male and female students joined together to participate.  

OSOV kicked off on Sept. 27 with the pop-up event where Taylor greeted students, starting dialogue and drawing people in for the two events later in the week. On Sept. 30, OSOV hosted a movie night followed by facilitated conversations on the film “Miss Representation.” This film discusses the sexualized image of females in the media and how this affects girls growing up today. OSOV concluded on Oct. 3 with keynote speaker Dr. Lisa Nielson, a historical musicologist with a specialization in women’s studies and an Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow. 

The Interfraternity Congress, the governing body of fraternities on campus, had their own dialogue on gender. On Sept. 29, they hosted an event called “Guys Being Dudes: The Masculinity Project.” This event was a chance to have conversations about different types of masculinity and toxic masculinity.

As Taylor says, all of these opportunities for discussing gender are about getting students to “take 10 seconds to think about something that shapes [their] entire life.”