proFmagazine Fall 2018

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unapologetically intelligent and seriously cool

Fall/Winter 2018





Judicial Scales


FOXY MIND “Love is a tool that you can use to resist.”


Mirelsie Velazquez A publication by, for and about women in higher education.

C ontents


Editors’ Letter 2

Amplifying Women in Business 3 Tipping the Judicial Scales on Choice 5 Style proFile of Mirelsie Velazquez 9 proFile of Kimberly Blodgett 17 The Doctor Will Shame You Now 20


Work Smart 23 The Rewards of Running for Public Office 31 proFile of LaShonda Williamson-Jennings 37

Cover photo by Shevaun Williams proFmagazine, PO Box 2519, Norman, OK 73070 Advertising: Contact:


Well hello there, #CampusWomen! It’s hard to believe we are well into fall 2018, with the semester winding down, yet another election in the rearview mirror and the holiday season in full swing. In March of this year, we published our first print issue of proFmagazine and received rave reviews. We were so excited to share our dream of a print proFmagazine with you — and it is with delight that we now bring you our SECOND print edition! proFmagazine remains the only publication by, for and about women in higher education, and we strive to amplify and magnify the role of campus women across the country online every day. This fall/winter installment, however, remains focused on the community that is near and dear to our hearts — the campus women of the University of Oklahoma. In this issue, we feature the indomitable Dr. Mirelsie (Melli) Velazquez, professor of education, and showcase the fascinating political work of OU alum Lashonda Williamson-Jennings. We highlight the role of Oklahoma educator and OU mom Kimberly Blodgett, who helped lead the teacher walkout last April, and we share the amazing work of students and alums Audra Brulc, Catelyn Flack, Devin Hiett, Morgan Neuenfeld and Kerri Shadid. This issue of proFmagazine also boasts our first style shoot, featuring the photography of Shevaun Williams and the stylish work-wear available at Cayman’s. And don’t miss our #proFpicks, where the B’s of the proF hive share their favorite places, products or experiences. And in an election year, we can’t help but talk politics. The 2018 midterms saw a record number of women elected to the US House of Representatives and a number of historic firsts, including the first Muslim Congresswomen-elect (Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib), the first Native American Congresswomen-elect (Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids), and the youngest woman ever elected to the House (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). To celebrate this banner year for women in politics, we chatted with several OU women that have served in public office or have recently won political races. Prepare to be wowed by their dedication and integrity. Overall, this print edition continues to boost the bold and daring nature of women in higher education — especially the inspirational campus women of OU! As you read, we hope you will feel as exhilarated as we felt putting it together. As always, we are proFmagazine. We are campus women with optimistic outlooks, curious minds, big ideas and authentic hearts. And like you, we are unapologetically intelligent and seriously cool. Thanks so much for sticking with us through thick and thin and enjoying this dreamy little magazine of ours! For more stories by and about women in higher ed, you can find us every day online at Reach out if you want to get involved — we would love to hear or tell your amazing stories. And we have even bigger things planned for 2019, so definitely stay tuned! xoxo, The proFmagazine team....

Suzette Rebecca Jacque Kari

Founding Editor/Publisher Operations and Content Editor Senior Digital Editor/Creative Director Life and Style Editor

Maura Lauren Melanie Audra

Senior Blog Editor/Arts & Culture Editor Financial Manager/Contributor Contributing Editor Social Media Manager


AMPLIFYING Women in Business By Morgan Neuenfeld

As a freshman, I came to OU as a blank canvas. I left all my family and friends in Wisconsin to pursue an accounting degree at a university I loved. With all my interpersonal connections approximately 13 hours away, I knew that I would have to put effort into creating a network with people in my new environment. Because of past experience in high school, I understood that a great way to meet new people with similar interests would be to join an organization on campus. The Women in Business Association was the first organization I found that I was enthusiastic to be a part of. The organization’s purpose is “to further a sense of empowerment and limitless opportunity for young professional women of the future. By not being content with what is, but by looking to a greater vision of the place of women in the workforce, we aim to inspire women to use their unique talents and abilities to help transform the

Morgan is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. She is majoring in accounting with a minor in economics. When she is not in class or working on homework, Morgan enjoys playing softball, watching the Milwaukee Brewers, playing Sorry! with her friends and writing poetry. Originally from Stoughton, Wisconsin, she hopes to be able to move closer to home after the completion of her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and pursue a career as a certified public accountant.



world of commerce.” Having an organization geared toward women business majors meant that I had a community of women that I could relate to and a support system through classes. Throughout the year, my peers and I were able to learn about aspects of the business world that most people do not learn about in high school, participate in fun, relaxing activities and give back to the people and communities around us. Throughout the year, meetings were focused on one of three categories: the business world, community service and self-care. “Business world” meetings focused on topics like budgeting, what to wear to an interview, what to expect out of an internship and how to build a resume. Community service activities included writing letters to veterans on the Honor Flight, and self-care meetings were meant to relieve stress — my personal favorite was when we made essential oil sprays to appease the pressure of finals week. In addition to general meetings, there would be “Lunch and Learns” where women from Price College of Business or other organizations would present what they experienced in their field, how they found success and how they overcome obstacles. Hearing from these women was encouraging. It provided the assurance that it is possible to accomplish anything I wanted as long as I put in the work for it. The Women in Business Association became a network of friends that understood what I was going through, and having those women around me took a lot of stress out of my first year on campus. Being a part of this organization transformed me from someone that did not know the best way to make it in the business world into a knowledgeable, confident woman ready to take on whatever is thrown at me after college. It educated me about life inside and outside of the business world. I learned about proper attire for an interview and how to create an effective monthly budget, as well as how to balance work with fun, find time to socialize and give back to my community. I learned that an effective businesswoman does not only know how to conduct a meeting, construct a resume and ace an interview. She also

field. My officers and I focused this year’s goals on the growth and development of empowerment in our members. Each meeting focuses on enlightening members about aspects of the business world, opportunities on campus and/or ways to give back to our community. This year we have discussed resume building, the career fair and interviews, and in future meetings we plan to collect donations for UNICEF and host a self-defense class. By focusing on a variety of life aspects, we aspire to give our members the tools they need to excel in both their professional and personal lives.

must know how to make time for others, have a life outside of work and prioritize herself so that she can lead a healthy life. Finding this organization was a critical part of my freshman year, and it defined who I have become and who I want to continue to be. Now I am on the other side of the organization as president. My interest in becoming a leader for the Women in Business Association stemmed from my passion to cultivate growth in the women around me. I did not want to be just another woman on campus — I wanted to make a difference. My team of officers are driven by the same thing. Deana Spagnola, the Vice President of Programming, said that becoming an officer has allowed her to positively influence women on campus. “Being an officer is really rewarding. It is a chance to make an impact on others, to share my story with a broader audience, and to connect with other women,” she said. WBA Secretary Jasmine Graves agreed, noting that her leadership role provides an avenue for her to empower women and give them an opportunity to grow in a male-dominated

Women in Business Association has already been making a difference in the lives of our new members this year. Madison Prince, a freshman accounting major, stated that being a part of WBA has provided her with information that applies to her life now. “The meetings are useful and go over things that [the members] can start doing now and will help my career,” she said. “For example, when we had the meeting that went over LinkedIn, I knew that I could start working on my profile right away.” Prince also explained that, to her, the organization encompasses “women empowerment and gives women the tools they need to be successful in a male-dominant field.” Seeing that the time, love, and hard work invested into the organization is making a difference in lives around us is the reason my officers and I wanted to lead. The most gratifying feeling comes from knowing that what you are doing has an impact. Overall, we strive to stay true to the organization’s purpose. In doing so, we hope to cultivate a strong, confident, independent generation of women who will battle against inequalities in the workforce and teach the next generation of women how to do the same. The Women in Business Association has had a powerful impact on my life, and I hope that the organization changes the lives of this year’s members for the better, as it has on my own. ♀ PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 4

By Devin Hiett

In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, a coalition of Democrats and abortion-rights groups have grown increasingly concerned about the future of women’s right to reproductive health in America. Although a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion was established in the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, abortion has remained one of the most polarizing and divisive issues in the American political landscape. Since 1973, individual states have enacted 1,142 restrictions on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. These restrictions have made the path to getting an abortion difficult or impossible for some women, especially in deep-red states like Oklahoma. Candace Blalock, who has served as chief judge, district judge and assistant district attorney 5


in Oklahoma, reflected on how statewide abortion restrictions target economically disadvantaged women. “They obstruct any way at all for poor women to have a choice. It’s very difficult for someone that has no money, maybe several children already, to be in that situation,” Blalock said. “Rich women can fly to Switzerland if they want to and middle class women can find other means, but for poor women they really don’t have a choice.” Although abortion rates in Oklahoma have declined in recent years, the state legislature has continued to propose restrictive measures on reproductive services. Since taking

office in 2011, Governor Mary Fallin has signed 19 restrictions on access to women’s reproductive health in the state. Eight of these 19 measures have been challenged by The Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization whose mission is to use “the power of law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights around the world.” The center won all eight cases they argued before The Oklahoma Supreme Court. Martha Hardwick Blake, a retired Oklahoma lawyer who has worked extensively with The Center for Reproductive Rights, helped fight

against 15 anti-choice legislation measures during her career. Hardwick believes that Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a threat to women across the country. “There’s no question about it. The first opportunity he [Kavanaugh] has to vote against it, he will vote Roe down,” Blake said. “The back alley abortions will come back, because women are not going to quit getting abortions, but they’re not going to be safe or legal.” While Kavanaugh has attempted to ease public concerns about his beliefs on abortion by saying he “respects precedent,” Blake’s concerns are far from unfounded. Kavanaugh’s legal history indicates that his definition of abortion “precedent” is worrisome, as indicated in his dissent in the 2017 case Garza v. Hargan. In this case, an undocumented 17-year-old girl was arrested while crossing the border between the United States and Mexico and sent to a private Texas detention center. While living at the detention center, the girl learned she was eight weeks pregnant and wanted an abortion. She had already fulfilled the state requirement of being “mature and sufficiently well informed to make the decision to have an abortion” by a Texas judge. She also had money for transportation and to pay for the procedure. However, the Trump administration would not allow the girl to leave the detention center to attend her appointment. The government was then sued by ACLU lawyers, who argued on behalf of the girl. One of the three judges on the case’s panel was Brett Kavanaugh, whose dissenting opinion accused the court of authorizing “immediate abortion on demand” for “unlawful immigrant minors.” Kavanaugh’s proposed solution for the case was to leave the girl in legal limbo until her pregnancy exceeded Texas’s 20-

Devin is pursuing degrees in international studies and journalism at the University of Oklahoma. She spent the last year studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she dabbled in Scottish improv and was frequently mistaken for a local. In the future, she hopes to be a speechwriter for the first female president and maybe start a true crime podcast. If this doesn’t work out, her backup plan is to give into her hippie spirit, buy a light blue VW bug and travel around the world meeting as many interesting people and petting as many dogs along the way as she possibly can. week limit on legal abortions so that she would be forced to carry the baby to term. Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of the ACLU and the girl was able to get an abortion. “I think the most telling thing about that case was that he [Kavanaugh] did not think what she wanted was relevant,” Blalock said. “If the minor has an opinion on what they want, but he sees that as not relevant, that’s kind of an extreme view.” A recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 29 percent of Americans say they want Roe v. Wade to be overturned. When we break down the percentages of Americans who are for and against abortion by demographic, it’s apparent that the divide is deeply ideological and partisan. Nearly 90 percent of self-identifying liberal Democrats think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to only about 27 percent of conservative Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. Bliss Brown, a student affairs professional who served as prevention educator for the Women’s Resource Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said she thinks

it’s possible for a person to be both pro-choice and pro-life. “I think that you can say ‘Well, I would not be comfortable having an abortion because I think that’s taking a life,’ but you can also have the ability to believe and know that’s your choice and someone else might have different feelings and thoughts and that’s their choice,” Brown said. We asked Blalock, Blake and Brown how they think the issue of abortion will eventually be solved or reconciled. Blake believes the ideal solution to the abortion debate is to leave women’s reproductive rights in the hands of women themselves. “The answer to the whole thing is simply to get off our backs, get out of our lives and quit trying to tell women what to do or what not to do,” she said. “If they could just leave us alone and leave the reproductive system to the women and their doctors or the families and their doctors, that would be wonderful. That would be a perfect world for women.” Blalock thinks our best hope of finding a solution that will satisfy those on both sides of the divide will likely arise as technology progresses. “My hope for our PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 6

society is technology, so that if they want to do away with that embryo they can find another womb to put it in and hopefully that would satisfy everyone so they wouldn’t feel like they were messing with God’s plan,” she said. “Hopefully that’ll be the answer, because both sides are so dug in. The technology isn’t there yet, but I think it’ll get there.” Finally, Brown believes that the issue of abortion will not start to become less divisive until our culture deems women capable of making their own decisions. “I wish it didn’t have to be so partisan,” she said. “I think what pro-choice is ultimately all about is giving people the choice for themselves based on the individual and their individual circumstances. And I don’t think that’s going to happen until people start listening to women and believing that women are capable of making decisions for

themselves. It’s very apparent that’s not happening yet.” Now that Kavanaugh is confirmed to the court, the likely demise of Roe v. Wade is not the only issue progressive voters should be concerned about. Kavanaugh is taking the seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with conservative justices 71.3 percent of the time, according to the Supreme Court Database. However, Kennedy cast the deciding vote with the liberal justices on more than one landmark case, including the decision to uphold Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and the 2015 case that legalized gay marriage nationwide, Obergefell v. Hodges. Ultimately, the decision regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court

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came down to a small handful of “wild card” senators, with Republican pro-choice senator Susan Collins of Maine casting a decisive vote. The Supreme Court has leaned conservative for over 45 years, and now that Kavanaugh has been confirmed we will see the most conservative court since the 1930s. It remains to be seen, however, what the political fallout of this vote will be for both the short and long term. “What I think it is, is that there is an understanding that money equals power and those that have the money are somehow entitled to power,” Blalock said. “And we no longer have a valid judicial system when it’s all based on who has money who has power. I’m fearful of what is happening.” ♀

Cool Cat, Foxy Mind by Kerri Shadid

I know you don’t expect me to apologize for thinking, A cool cat through and through, with a mind like a fox. Though I look chill, I am contemplating, Insightfully assessing, always taking stock. I craft my exterior, you know that I’m serious, Showing you my power, my style, how I rock. Yet that is just my lampshade, don’t want to go and blind you, With my inner brilliance that I always keep cranked up. Light in my cranium, electric neural fireworks, “Ah ha!” “Eureka!” You’ll never keep me stumped. Creating new pathways, I am always learning, Making even shinier my brightness, I can’t stop! Yet while improving, I never doubt who I am, Confident in each phase—Look at all that I’ve got! PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 8

of Mirelsie Velazquez By Suzette Grillot It was because of Donald Trump that I met my good friend and colleague Dr. Mirelsie (Melli) Velazquez, Assistant Professor of Education. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced its intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which protected young people who were brought to the United States outside the legal immigration process from deportation. Beginning in 2012, the DACA program has allowed hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, many of whom have known no other home than the United States, to defer deportation action while seeking legal immigration status. Ending this program, of course, threatened the well-being of a number of students in our university community, so Melli and a couple of other colleagues sprung into action to raise awareness about this issue, organize a public discussion about how to best serve students at risk of losing their DACA status, and provide support to those affected by this decision. As a passionate supporter of international education, global awareness and multicultural spaces myself, I connected with Melli because of this immediate threat to many in our community. In the process of working together, I have learned a great deal from Melli and admire her work. It seemed fitting, then, to highlight her unapologetically intelligent and seriously cool style in this issue’s Style proFile — because Melli is not only educated AF and cool AF, but she also is one fierce force for women, and especially women of color, in higher education. Enjoy my conversation with Melli and be prepared to sense her passion, feel her energy and become inspired to make this world a better place.

Photos by Shevaun Williams

proF: Can you tell us a bit about your background? MV: I was born in Puerto Rico, and when I was four years old we moved to Chicago, where I immediately started school. I didn’t speak English at first, and although I went to public schools and moved around a bit, we always lived primarily around the Puerto Rican community. I have a big extended family. I have several siblings on both my mother’s and father’s sides. For the most part all of our family members are in Puerto Rico. In Chicago we had only one aunt, so we learned how to build family. People became family because they were Puerto Rican. We would talk about how we never grew up around grandparents and cousins. It was a female led migration to the United States, which is rare. My mom grew up in New York City before moving back to Puerto Rico. She later worked for the phone company and had a chance to move to Chicago. She was a phone operator because she was fully bilingual and used that to her advantage. She started working for the



phone company at the age of 16 — first for New York Bell then Atlantic Bell in the Caribbean and then Illinois Bell. She ultimately retired from AT&T. We are really good at geography because my mom had to know major cities and different countries — and she would quiz us on this. One of my earliest memories was when Illinois Bell went on strike to try and achieve a living wage and my mom was involved in the union. I went to the picket line with my mom and had a prison uniform on with a ball and chain. [I] was photographed and showed up in the paper with my mom, which is ironic because I now write about activist spaces in cities and about picketing. proF: What drew you to your areas of academic study? MV: My academic path was not intended. I was first a pre-med major and then a pre-law major, and then I dropped out of school for a few years. When I went back I realized the classes I enjoyed the most had to do with education policy and the role of Latina teachers. I was interested in

contemporary issues, but there were no historical studies about Puerto Ricans and their educational experiences. So, I began to write about that history. I wanted to know about the experiences of others from Puerto Rico and the experiences of my teachers and their students. There is a reason why these schools I attended were largely Puerto Rican and why the teachers were Puerto Rican. I wanted to understand those reasons from a historical perspective. So I became a historian by accident, really. I don’t write about my own experience really — I focus on this history up to the late 1970s and early 1980s. I just wanted to know why I attended schools that were largely Puerto Rican, but I didn’t want to study the years I was there. I wanted to work backwards. proF: So, you were searching for your community’s past? MV: Yes. I talk about understanding your own spaces and why you enter certain spaces. The spaces you live in, work in, engage in matter. If you don’t understand why you are in certain spaces, you can’t be an effective

of the Latina women running these organizations and helping students like me. I was benefiting at the moment, but I didn’t realize until I started writing about it how important the organization’s history is. Ultimately, it is important to look back at these types of organizations and school experiences and spaces and understand their impact from a historical perspective. proF: You also conduct research on diasporic populations. Can you tell us a little bit about that, as well as your work on the history of Latinas in the United States? MV: As a member of the Puerto Rican diaspora community — “Diasporicans,” as we are often called — I feel it is important to understand why people migrate. Too many don’t understand that people leave home because they have to leave home, not because they want to. These groups of people leave their homes and spaces because of war, violence, economic problems and other serious and often life-threatening concerns. And once they move, they are forced to create new homes for themselves. We have to learn about the consequences of peoples’ actions and movements in the lives of others. People vilify individuals for leaving home, but they don’t understand the deeper reasons or the policies that cause people to leave.

teacher. We need to connect to our work personally because it influences what we do and how we do it. I have to connect to my own work personally. And I think my work is more authentic for that reason. I write about the community that shaped me in many ways, and I don’t think I would want to do any other kind of work. I was active in spaces in Chicago but didn’t know why, and wanted to explore more deeply how educational experiences affect us — how they affected me.

community by providing educational services and supporting leadership development. This organization helped students like me get ready for college. ASPIRA provided assistance with our college applications and took us on college visits. This type of organization was really important for students like me and in a space like where I grew up. My dad had only a ninth-grade education and didn’t know how I should go about going to college. This was true of many people in my community.

For example, I was active in ASPIRA, a national organization with chapters in various cities, that works to empower members of the Puerto Rican and Latino

Engaging with this type of educational organization had a tremendous impact on the work I ended up doing. It also highlighted for me the importance

The conversation has to be deeper. Because people shape spaces and spaces shape people. These kinds of shifts happen all the time. There are places that are in flux all the time. There are a number of Somalis in Minnesota, Turkish in Germany, Vietnamese in Oklahoma — these are spaces and places comprised of displaced people. Displacement follows people in terms of how this affects lives into the next generation. So my interest in studying the diaspora is to highlight individual choices as connected to political and economic shifts that they have no control over. We so frequently talk around these people, but not directly about them. We look over bodies without actually engaging with them. We don’t have to go to other cities to see this — we can just go down the street. PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 12

proF: What about your research on access to higher education for underrepresented communities of color? Can you also tell us about your own experience in this regard? MV: First of all, I am constantly having to recreate home. I left home and made a new home, and then went to college and created a new home, and then in my professional environment have created a new home, and so on. Writing about higher education for women of color is a way to make visible the fact that underrepresented communities, in particular, are always working to create and recreate home and ultimately survive. I engage with many women of color at the university about this issue. Whenever my evaluation comes through, my service is always over-the-top. I am told I don’t have to be doing all of these things with students. But if I don’t do this work and work with certain students, I won’t survive and these students won’t survive. Our survival is tied together.

that matters. I have always had these types of relationships with people who share a certain experience and history with me, and it really does matter. Our survival is interdependent. Research shows students of color do better when they have faculty that look like them. But it’s not just about the data; it’s about my own experience.

meant to be here. So frankly, people in the United States largely don’t care. There are numerous negative writings about Puerto Rico and its people. We have never been talked about in a humanized way because we have never been recognized or viewed as people. What Hurricane Maria did was validate that.

proF: You are a woman of Puerto Rican heritage and still have significant connections there. Many people in the United States do not understand Puerto Rico. What are the primary things you think we should know?

proF: As you mentioned, Puerto Rico has been struggling significantly since Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. How are things going with the recovery and rebuilding, and what can and should people do to help support Puerto Rico?

MV: Well, let’s just start with the obvious: Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and in fact that citizenship was imposed. Since that

MV: One of the best things that came out of this hurricane is that it demonstrated or reminded us how well we can take care of ourselves. There is a big movement in Puerto Rico right now to cultivate their own land and grow their own food. We are learning once again what it means to be Puerto Rican — how to depend on solar energy and other sustainable practices. Young people going back to Puerto Rico to help with this and university students are refusing to leave the island. But the problem is the local government that has a lot of ties to people on the mainland. They are largely responsible for the economic downfall and are using this experience with a deadly hurricane as an opportunity to argue that we can’t take care of ourselves and need more assistance from the United States. So, there is a conflict between the government’s view of the political and economic situation and how the population are responding. But things are still exciting with young people getting involved.

If white women want to engage

critically they should engage each other. And around women of color they should be listening.

These students of color are connected in that way. I know what it’s like. I understand how it feels. So we need to be creating spaces where students of color can create and recreate home. They need a cultural home. We not only need to bring these students into college spaces, but they have to survive. This isn’t just about happiness— they need to be able to survive and that requires connection, space and a sense of home. proF: Can you elaborate on what you mean by “survival”?

MV: If they don’t survive, I won’t survive. I have to see others like me or I can’t find joy in this space. There has to be familiarity. I have to be contributing to their success. I don’t see myself as an individual, but as a member of this community. If I don’t encounter, mentor and engage with them, then neither of us will survive our experience. That mutual support is important, and to me 13


time, Puerto Ricans have contributed a great deal more to the United States — economically, politically and socially — than they have gotten in return. Today, Puerto Rico is not doing okay. As we sit here today, there is a massive hurricane bearing down on the Carolinas, which will be getting all of the attention as we come up on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is still suffering in the wake of last year’s hurricane, but we won’t be talking about it. Ultimately, we aren’t following up with our responsibilities regarding the island. When I was growing up, there was this picture book about Puerto Rico entitled Our Islands and Their People. What does this mean exactly? We were clearly never supposed to be fully part of the United States in profound ways. We were never wanted. The United States wanted Puerto Rico’s resources, but the people were never

If you want to get involved, there are a lot of organizations and school movements that need help. You should figure out where your strengths are and where you can help. Health workers are really needed, for example.

proF: There has been recent discussion about the many problems with “white feminism.” What do you think white women should know and do in order to be better and more inclusive feminists? Or is that even the question we should be asking? MV: This is a question that should be asked to white women, and that’s part of the problem. What are white women doing to teach themselves and check themselves? We are asking populations to change systems they had no role in creating. If white women want to engage critically they should engage each other. And around women of color they should be listening. And then they should be talking about this among themselves. Listening becomes a big part of it — and yeah, you might get defensive, but defensiveness is a privilege in itself. Whatever you do, don’t invalidate people’s experiences. Acknowledge their experiences, listen, learn and do the work you need to do to make this world a better place. proF: What advice would you give to women of color in higher education? Do you recommend a career in academia given your research and experience? How optimistic are you that higher education will become more diverse in the future?

proF: What should we be reading about race, gender and sexuality? What are the issues we should be educating ourselves about? MV: This is a tough one. I am always on social media because I can keep up with what’s on Twitter about these issues. You don’t have to buy the latest book. You can find out who is who on the Internet. Rosa Clemente is a strong activist. You should follow Native scholars — follow who young people are following on gender, race and sexuality — and then read. Work backwards. Find out where that information is coming from, and then go read the classics: bell hooks, Angela Davis, Gloria Anzaldua. I still assign older texts in my classes, but I put students in conversation with issues going on today.

proF: It seems that it is sometimes difficult to have civil conversations about race, gender and sexuality, given what we see on social media. Why do you think that is, and what can be done about it? MV: It’s because people in power don’t want to give up their power and platform. Nobody wants to look at themselves as part of the problem. When we talk about these issues, they are lived experiences, so there is going to be passion and anger. There is a real opportunity for people to listen to those who are speaking from a space of pain, but people don’t want to share their platform or give up their position of power or take responsibility for that pain.

MV: I’m not optimistic that higher education will become more diverse. Diversity is something people talk about doing. Social justice is something we should actually do. I wouldn’t tell people not to follow an academic path, because it’s a good gig if you can get it. I encourage people to join academia, but they need to seek out mentors, take advice and build community, whatever that means to you, because you can’t survive by yourself. We all experience things differently, so I wouldn’t discourage women of color, but they need to be prepared to be realistic. I don’t think there will be a large shift in academia, however, because that means a shift in power. We have to start earlier with K-12 before we can be optimistic about higher education.


I see my work in education as a part of this bigger picture, because it is all connected. But yet too many don’t view it that way, viewing higher education as distinct from all of the education that comes before. Educators of all types need to be in conversation with one another. I would love to see a little army of women of color, but we need to make sure we are mentoring them through the process. They will have access and successful experiences that will move them forward once they have seen others like them learning and leading. For example, I have been so lucky to have a small community of Puerto Rican faculty that always check in. And that matters, which is why I want to do this for others. I am responsible for doing this because someone has done it for me. Women of color work as communities wherever we are, and we have to protect each other and mentor each other. It does make a difference. I would also say you need to be happy. You should love what you do, but your work shouldn’t be your entire life. Happiness cannot be taken from you. Love is a tool that you can use to resist, so use it. Dr. Mirelsie Velazquez is an educational historian interested in issues of race/ethnicity, historical research in education, and gender and sexuality. She teaches courses on History of American Education, Critical Race Theory, Latino Education, Oral History and Historiography of Education. Her research focuses on History of Latino Education, Puerto Rican history in the diaspora, social movements and History of Latinas in the United States. Locally, Dr. Velazquez is working on issues pertaining to community involvement in Latino and African American communities, as well as access to higher education for underrepresented communities of color. ♀




of Kimberly Blodgett By Suzette Grillot

I met Kimberly Blodgett the way I meet many people these days — I connected with her on Twitter. Being an educator and an activist, I followed with significant interest the teacher walkout last spring. The hashtag #oklaed led me to Kimberly Blodgett, who uses Twitter to engage with other educators around the state and share thoughts about everything from school culture to education policy. Just scrolling through this elementary school teacher’s more than 75,000 tweets, you can see that Kimberly is a force for public education. But she also uses each 280-character message to spread positive vibes with a large dose of humor. Given that proFmagazine is all about education (and humor!), I reached out to Kimberly to learn more about her life, her perspective on education in Oklahoma, her role in this year’s teacher walkout and what advice she has for future teachers in the state. proF: First of all, where are you from and what brought you to Norman? KB: I am originally from Norman, but in seventh grade my family decided to leave the city and move to a farm to raise cattle. This was in McIntosh County in the small town of Hitchita, OK. I graduated High School at Midway in Council Hill, Oklahoma. I had 15 people in my graduating class. When I met my husband we knew we wanted to move back to Norman, so we have been back here for about five years now. proF: Tell us about your family. KB: I have five children — three biological children and two recently adopted. We fostered two siblings for one year and knew right away if they came up for adoption we would happily adopt. Three of my children are grown and two of them are still in college. My oldest daughter, Laura, graduated from OU with a teaching degree. She is a kindergarten teacher in Tulsa. My son Corey is set to graduate from OU in December with a degree in Political Science, and my daughter Sara attends



the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. She is a sophomore majoring in Sociology. My two children we adopted are siblings, boy and a girl — Albie is three, and Brie is twenty months. My husband Jeremy works for OG&E at the Corporate office and we have been married for seven years. We enjoy our big family and I wouldn’t be surprised if it kept growing in the future. proF: Can you tell us about your teaching career? How long have you been teaching, and why did you choose to teach elementary school children? KB: I teach at Jefferson Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma. This is my fifth year of teaching and every year that passes I am more convinced this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I chose to teach Elementary school because that is where it all begins. I wanted to be a part of laying the foundation that the students will build upon each year they pass through the halls of a school. I want to help ignite my students’ interests and passion for what they believe in, or what they enjoy. I have taught

Stephania Abell, Norman High School choir teacher

fourth and fifth grade, and the students in both grades are so curious about the world around them. They both are so eager to learn new things, and I want to help them be future leaders. proF: Oklahoma is known to be a rather difficult place to teach these days — relatively low pay, improper funding for school materials and infrastructure, etc. Can you tell us about some of the problems you face as a teacher in the state, and why you stay? KB: Teaching at a Title 1 school brings its own hardships, and teaching at a Title 1 school in Oklahoma doubles or triples the difficulties. We have students coming to school without their basic needs being met: food, water and shelter are a daily concern for some students so they can’t begin to be ready to learn. Teachers in Oklahoma a lot of times take it upon themselves to provide these basic needs for their students. Every weekend when I go grocery shopping, a lot of my bill is snacks for my classroom. I can’t make a snack calendar to send out because I have too many students that I know can’t afford to bring snacks. If I want to really make a lesson fun and engaging for my students, I have to purchase the supplies myself because we don’t have enough resources. I am lucky to work at one of the best districts in Oklahoma,

but still it’s not comparable to states such as Texas in pay or education funding. When it rains we have several classrooms that have a leaky roof. These classrooms are in the older part of our building, but it’s not safe for our students, not to mention the mold concern. Our legislators don’t fund education adequately enough to improve our school’s outdated buildings. Schools in Oklahoma are operating without air-conditioning, textbooks and enough teachers, hence the teacher walkout. proF: Can you tell us about your role in the walkout and what that experience was like? KB: A lot of Oklahoma teachers operate under the umbrella of OEA, or Oklahoma Education Association. Norman teachers operate under PEN, Professional Educators of Norman, which is a branch off of OEA. Each school site in Norman has a representative, and I am the PEN representative for my site. I attend monthly meetings to keep faculty at my site informed of the legislation/local community updates. During the Teacher Walkout, I coordinated meetings with legislators, and I coordinated a meeting between State Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister and my faculty. After we were called back to school by our Superintendent I coordinated two teachers from my site to go advocate as delegates at the PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 18

Capitol to let the legislators know we were not finished yet. My school site had one of the biggest showings of delegates after the walkout was called off. I am very proud of how involved my site is in creating change for our students.

all your time at work. Take care of yourself mentally and physically. Don’t take work home every single night. Own your mistakes in front of your students. Be human around your students. Smile, laugh and be silly. Most importantly though, VOTE! We need your vote!

proF: How do you feel about the way the walkout ended?

proF: In addition to your public education activism, you are also quite active on Twitter, promoting a number of issues and causes. Can you tell us a bit about why you use Twitter in this way, and what issues are particularly close to your heart?

KB: I feel like it didn’t benefit our students enough. Our students were the ones that were impacted by the teachers missing so much school. In the end, education wasn’t funded nearly enough. The legislators wanted to make it all about a teacher raise, and as always politics got in the way of a real resolution. Both sides made agreements they were unwilling to go back on even if it meant funding education. It’s heartbreaking! I’m not sure if we will ever see education become a top priority in Oklahoma again. It will take a strong voting presence in November. proF: What do you think people should know about public education — in the state of Oklahoma and in the United States in general? KB: We need education to become a bipartisan issue. We need our children to become a priority. We need to remember our children are the future of Oklahoma. When our children see you not properly funding their schools, they will move elsewhere when able. We need to show our future leaders that they do in fact have a future here in Oklahoma. Education isn’t Democrat or Republican — education is universal. proF: What do you think is the way forward? What do we need to do to better serve the children of our state? KB: We need our legislators to stop making deals with people that they can’t go back on. When they make deals it’s usually not to the benefit of education. We need our legislators to do the right thing and fund education adequately. During the walkout it didn’t matter what side I visited, Democrat or Republican, both sides had “made deals” they wouldn’t go against to benefit education. The children of Oklahoma suffer because of backroom deals among legislators. We need our leadership to pass laws that will not only fund education, but also sustain the funding to education. We need education dollars freed up to be spent on infrastructure such as leaky roofs. proF: What advice would you give to future teachers? KB: I tell future teachers to keep the students as top priority — to keep the focus on them so you don’t get disheartened. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to have a bad day and vent about it. Don’t spend 19


KB: Being an activist is very much who I am. Social justice, education, women’s rights, criminal justice and environmental issues are very important to me. I use Twitter to ensure my voice is heard. I want to spread the news of the issues surrounding these important topics. I feel as if it’s my duty to each individual issue that I ensure others are informed of what is happening. I want to encourage others to vote, and to research the candidates and match their beliefs with that of a candidate. I constantly have followers on Twitter messaging me telling me they appreciate how I speak out on the important issues. I am on twitter because I have to feel as if I am doing something. In these crazy times, I need to feel busy and help create change. proF: I was particularly intrigued by the cover photo on your Twitter page, which says simply, “= > ÷”. Can you tell us more about this? KB: Equality is greater than division. I thought it properly reflected me as a teacher using the math symbols but also me as an activist promoting equality. I believe in acceptance and tolerance of all beliefs regardless if they’re different than your own. proF: Activists (and teachers) are often known for working all the time! What do you do to take a break and care for yourself? KB: This is one I haven’t quite figured out yet. I do try to spend time with my husband and my friends during my off time. I am very blessed with a great circle of friends that keep me grounded. I should probably do more to disconnect, but I haven’t learned how to turn it off yet. I feel obligated at this point to inform my friends and faculty of current events. I’m working on it. ♀ Kimberly Blodgett teaches at Jefferson Elementary School in Norman, Oklahoma. She earned an associate’s degree from Oklahoma State University – Okmulgee and a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University – Broken Arrow. She is a certified foster parent and OU mom who is committed to education in the state of Oklahoma. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter @KimberBlodgett.

The Doctor Will Shame You Now Ending Fatphobia Before it Ends Us By Audra Brulc

My name is Audra. I’m 23 years old. I have a master’s in International Studies. I’m a researcher, an only child, a cat person, a coffee lover and an enneagram type 4. I have brown hair, hazel eyes and freckles. I’m also fat. Being fat feels like something I’ve danced around for years—the ways it affects my life varies by age and context. For a long time—as long as I’ve considered myself a writer—writing about being fat has never been much of a priority for me. It’s felt alternately trite, forced or just not particularly interesting. This isn’t to say being fat hasn’t impacted my life. Quite the opposite, in fact. I can still remember every comment about my weight that has been levied at me (and many offhand remarks made about other fat people)

since I was about four or five years old. I remember the words and the tone in which they were said. I remember who said them, and maybe that’s what hurts most—sometimes it’s bullies or anonymous Twitter trolls, but it’s just as often family members, close friends or sorority sisters. Maybe that’s something you, reader, should know about fat people—we have awfully good memories. We don’t forget what you say about us, or people who look like us, no matter how much you try to hurriedly roll back your words so we know we’re not one of those fat people. There have been times throughout my life when my appearance in comparison to other people has become a fixation, an obsession with the geometry and structure of the body, as I would walk to class or through a restaurant calculating hips and thighs and upper arms with laser

precision. Am I bigger or smaller than her? Well, I’m bigger than her, but my hips are shaped differently. And the worst question of all, especially when the answer is a resounding yes—Am I the biggest person in the room? I think part of my reluctance to write about fatness is simultaneously a desire for invisibility and a wholehearted rejection of misplaced pity. The logic, however warped, is that if I don’t refer to myself as fat or make a big deal about fat activism, my fatness will somehow fly under the radar. My thin friends will let it slide, and we’ll just agree not to bring it up. A few months ago, a fat friend was talking about our similarities and matter-offactly mentioned that “we’re both fat.” I froze. The jig was up, but I’m not stupid. I know it’s been up for as long as my pant size has been roughly equivalent to my age. But on the other hand, I dread the sometimes well-meaning but ultimately annoying PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 20

possibility of being met with a chorus of simpering skinny people telling me I’m “brave” or “confident.” I do not particularly care to hear what anyone thinks about my body, unless they’re telling me that I’m hot, because I am. Even when I’ve been riding a wave of body confidence (or more frequently and desirably, body “normality”— when I don’t really think about my weight at all), getting on a plane will snap me back into reality in no time flat. But over the past few years, since gaining the “freshman 15” (times like, three) and starting antidepressants (notorious for their weight-gain side effects), another thing has trumped the sheer terror of a too-short airplane seatbelt—the doctor’s office. This isn’t just about me anymore. It’s about all of us, all of us fat people, and how the very people who are supposed to be looking out for our well-being are killing us. The reason I’m writing about any of this at all is thanks to a recent article in the Huffington Post’s Highline—a piece provocatively titled “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong” by a writer named Michael Hobbes. There’s a certain amount of fatigue that I, at least, have as a fat person reading about fat people. Articles usually fall into one of a few categories: 1. This fat woman posted bikini pictures on Instagram and she’s soooooooo brave!!! 2. Being mean to fat people is bad, but being fat is still bad, you unhealthy fatties. 3. I’m fat and my health is none of your damn business. These are all perfectly standard takes with varying degrees of validity. That’s fine. But Hobbes’s article is a little different, and if I had to sum it up, it would be along these lines: “Being mean to fat people is shitty, and it’s literally fucking killing them.” Hobbes uses the stories and perspectives of a diverse group of fat people, noting that “I have never written a story where so many of my sources cried during interviews, where they shook with anger describing their 21


interactions with doctors and strangers and their own families.” I had an inkling of where he was going, but I had no idea the personal pain, remorse and sheer anxiety that the article’s latter half would bring back to the surface of my mind. There are so many standout statements and statistics in the article, but this is a good reference point: Doctors have shorter appointments with fat patients and show less emotional rapport in the minutes they do have. Negative words – “noncompliant,” “overindulgent,” “weak willed” – pop up in their medical histories with higher frequency. In one study, researchers presented doctors with case histories of patients suffering from migraines. With everything else being equal, the doctors reported that the patients who were also classified as fat had a worse attitude and were less likely to follow their advice. And that’s when they see fat patients at all: In 2011, the SunSentinel polled OB-GYNs in South Florida and discovered that 14 percent had barred all new patients weighing more than 200 pounds. This is when my feigned nonchalance about Hobbes’s writing began to crumble. This was me, and this was why I’ve avoided going to the doctor as much as possible over the past four years.

Like I said, I’m 23. There’s a lot going on with my body that I have to keep on top of. Pap smears, birth control, vaccine boosters, cholesterol—and my mental health, which has been an ordeal of its own. When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to make a good faith effort to get on top of it all, and I started at my university’s student health clinic. After a counselor referred me to a physician to get my antidepressant prescription, I sucked it up and made an appointment. Going to the doctor had always been vaguely uncomfortable—hearing your weight announced to you and God and whoever else is in the doctor’s office hallways is a very specific and very shameful experience, especially for young girls. But I made the damn appointment, because I knew it was worth it. I didn’t realize how much it would spiral away from me. At my first visit, the doctor noted that my blood pressure was a little high—something I’m fully willing to attribute to my family history, subpar nutritional habits, and lackluster-atbest commitment to regular gym attendance. But my next question, about birth control, was shut down immediately—not until I lost weight, the doctor said. How much do you want me to lose? I asked, nervous, knowing in the back of my mind that permanent weight loss is often unattainable to begin with. Oh, just 15 to 20 pounds, she replied, her tone the equivalent of a simpering pat on

Audra is a writer, researcher and car karaoke star most recently from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She graduated with a master’s degree in International Studies in 2018, and currently works for her alma mater while she figures out what exactly she’s going to do with her life. Audra’s favorite things include great libraries, autumn, good coffee and cats, and her dislikes include mornings, sad movies and pretentious academic writing.

the cheek. I remember how my face felt hot with shame, because it feels like that again as I write this. Scolding, then dismissal—par for the course when you’re fat and seeking healthcare. After another horrible experience with the same doctor, I never went back. Like many fat people, my weight had a way of coming up at every appointment, for every ailment. It’s grueling and relentless, and eventually you’ll probably decide that you’ve had enough. And that’s killing us. I’m lucky, because I was still on my parents’ insurance, so I was able to see our primary care physician—a kind man who had shockingly never mentioned my weight, just congratulated me on taking up kickboxing—in Tulsa when I got sick. But now that I’m on my own again and establishing a life outside Tulsa, the idea of finding a new doctor literally paralyzes me with fear. Mentally walking myself through the appointment is enough to prevent me from trying to make one at all, even though I need to for my own health. When you’re fat and a woman (and a person of color, and queer), healthcare is always a crapshoot. Maybe you’ll have someone wonderful, but maybe you’ll have to endure thirty minutes of poking and prodding and shame and never get the chance to articulate the reason you actually made the appointment to begin with.

There is so much to being fat, because there is so much to being human. I’m doing much better at loving and appreciating myself the way I am and working toward my own personal wellbeing, but it’s articles and statistics and tragedies like this that remind me that, even though it sucks and I’m dreading the potential backlash I could get for writing any of this, fatness is simply not understood or respected by the medical community at large. And even more disheartening, I have little faith that most doctors care at all about compassionate interactions with fat patients or understanding the factors and complex circumstances behind fatness. It is not my job to prove my humanity to my doctor or anyone, but it is everyone’s job to treat one another with empathy and open-mindedness. The ball’s in your court. Choose how you want to play the game. ♀

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Carol Zerboni Southwind Montessori Scan to watch Dr. Scan Jarvis’ video here to see why Carol chooses Republic.

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by Cindy Simon Rosenthal

“Why would you want to do that?” My mother was not one to parse her words, and when I told her in late 2003, shortly before her death, that I was thinking about running for public office, she responded with her usual cut-to-the-chase insight. Her question was one that I would hear repeated from colleagues, neighbors and family over my 12 years of holding elected office in Norman city government, first as a council member and then as a three-term mayor. Certainly, election campaigning and sitting in the crosshairs of a local government dispute are not always pleasant and are not for the faint of heart. From the comfortable environment of academe, where I served as a professor of political science for more than two decades, political office can be seen as a bother, something less fulfilling than the high-minded pursuits of knowledge. But the rewards are significant and the potential contributions critically important. So why did I want to participate in local politics as an elected official? Why might others from the academy

wish to follow a similar path? Three motivations spurred my own path.

about my fellow citizens and about life in a vibrant city like Norman.

In the first instance, the role of a professor is to teach — to contribute to the creation of knowledge — and then to provide service to his or her profession, institution or community. Local politics is, of course, service, and in my discipline of political science and public administration, elected office provided an important nexus between the classroom, the praxis of service and the inspiration to pursue interesting research questions.

Life in the public sphere also presents the opportunity for personal growth, if one is open to it. On the dais and working in committee with my council colleagues, I was challenged to develop a patience that I did not previously have, to think strategically about process and policy and to find allies where previously there were adversaries.

Local government service is principally a volunteer calling, but pays in other ways. In Norman, a city council member or mayor receives $100 a month for a job that often takes 20 to 30 hours a week. But I found that service generated fodder for rich classroom discussions and field experiences for students to observe social dynamics unfold in real time. From my first campaign, knocking on doors and talking with voters has been a continuing graduate seminar on politics, human nature and community building. I came to love these interactions on the front doorstep, and I learned so much

One need not be a political scientist to make a contribution to public discourse and civic life. Other disciplines have much to give, and representative government calls people from all walks of life to give back to their communities. One of the great rewards of my time in office was the opportunity to tap colleagues across the university — law, engineering, business, the humanities and social sciences, the arts — to contribute in formal ways to policymaking and quality of life initiatives in Norman. My second motivation to run for political office was the desire to see specific policies advanced in my community. Among these policy

Cindy Rosenthal at her retirement party with N.E.W. grads. PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 32

goals were concerns related to environmental stewardship and wellplanned growth, efforts to leverage the cultural assets and talents of our community, an aspiration to distinguish the Norman community as welcoming and inclusive and a desire to see government operate with transparency and accountability. Not every goal was accomplished, but progress was made. During my time in local government, Norman has pursued a path of building an inclusive community, establishing cutting edge planning policies, creating a lively downtown arts district, leading efforts in the state for sustainability practices and energy conservation and supporting necessary infrastructure investment for water, wastewater, transportation and quality of life projects. The work continues. One specific role that a local mayor can play is in the nomination of persons to serve on boards and commissions. Coming into office, I was well aware that Norman’s boards and commissions were composed of members who were overwhelmingly male, white, older, upper middle class and concentrated in certain wealthier neighborhoods. Here too we made progress, and I found opportunities to nominate young men and women, persons of color and representatives from more diverse neighborhoods and backgrounds. Among these nominations, I advanced opportunities for former students to contribute to the community. The third motivation, and ultimately for me most important, was the opportunity to encourage and mentor the next generation of women leaders to step forward and take up roles in politics and public service. It is no secret that Oklahoma lags behind the rest of the nation in the number of women in public life. Historically, our state has ranked 48th or 49th for many years in the number of women serving in the state legislature. This paucity of women’s voices affects the policy choices we have made and, I believe, contributes to our lack of funding for education, social services and mental health; to the high rates of incarceration of women, 33


divorce, domestic violence and child abuse; and to the persistent poverty and cultural practices which hold Oklahoma back. In 2002, the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at OU joined a national program known as N.E.W. (National Education for Women’s) Leadership in partnership with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. N.E.W. Leadership was designed to address the underrepresentation of women in politics by encouraging undergraduate women to seek opportunities in the public sphere. Over the past 16 years, close to 600 women from colleges and universities all across Oklahoma have participated in this life-changing program and found inspiration to pursue elected office, policy advocacy roles or community leadership from the private sector, the pulpit and the nonprofit world. My own exhortations to these young women gained more legitimacy and meaning when I was able to share my own personal experiences as an elected official, along with the dozens of Oklahoma women leaders who also volunteered their time to N.E.W. Leadership. In this election cycle, it has been particularly gratifying to see so many N.E.W. Leadership graduates running for elected office and managing campaigns. Former students are running for local office, state legislature and county judgeships. Not all of them will be successful but they represent a positive future and the possibility for change. The Norman City Council now includes a majority of women, a change since my experience of serving with only one, or at most two, other women during my tenure. N.E.W. Leadership also has spawned a “new girls’ network” of incredibly talented policy advocates at the State Capitol. During the historic education demonstrations at the Capitol this past spring, I saw our N.E.W. Leadership alums and many former students walk with the Girl Attorney group, march in solidarity with teachers and students, and raise their voices with confidence

and authority. Our students need to see the change that we hope to inspire them to pursue. So why would a tenured woman professor want to do something like run for elected office? My first answer is that leadership in our system of government is too important to leave solely to others. My second response, as an educator and scholar, is that the satisfaction and rewards far outweigh the frustrations and disappointments. The recent spotlight on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh reminds us that criticism and risk are associated with moving beyond the comfortable confines of the academy and into the public square. Not every foray into the public conversation is so personal, profound or painful. Our voices, however, cannot be silenced. So, despite the long hours, the personal criticisms endured and the lost opportunities to pursue other things, I have not regretted a moment of my life in politics. Cindy Simon Rosenthal served as director and curator of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma from 2005-2018. She was the first woman ever to attain the rank of full professor in political science and was honored as an OU Presidential Professor. She also served for 12 years on the Norman City Council, including nine years as mayor. As Norman’s first popularly elected woman mayor, she was re-elected twice and is the second longest serving mayor in Norman’s history. Rosenthal has written extensively on public leadership and women in politics. She has been honored by the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration, the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Journal Record as 2010 Woman of the Year. ♀

By Rebecca Cruise Higher Ed is an excellent, though certainly not the only, training ground for public service. Here we highlight four women who have utilized their academic experience in political life. Aleisha Karjala and Breea Clark were both part of the Norman City Council that in 2017 included a majority of women for the first time in its history. Karjala earned her PhD in Political Science from OU and is a member of the faculty at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. A resident of Norman, she served on the City Council from 2016-2018 as the Councilwoman from Ward 2. Breea Clark graduated from OU Law and joined the Office of Academic Integrity. She is currently the Director of the JC Penny Leadership Program in OU’s Michael F. Price College of Business. Councilwoman Clark was first elected to the City Council in 2016 and continues to represent Ward 6.

Chelsey Branham State Representative-Elect, Oklahoma House District 83 Why did you run for office? I ran because things I experienced growing up and things I see every day in the lives of people I serve professionally are not being addressed in the chambers of the Capitol. I am a Native Chickasaw and grew up in Oklahoma in a single parent home after my mother passed from leukemia. I work with women and children that experience daily abuse and cannot access food, health care and mental health services. Those are the things I did not see legislators focusing on, and are also the very things we must solve if our state is going to get better. I decided after hitting a brick wall over and over again with legislators, it was time that I step up and do whatever I could to make those issues front and center. What did your running represent or mean to you personally? Running for office is not a glamorous job. It is personally, mentally and emotionally challenging on every level imaginable. It is basically the longest interview for one of the most challenging jobs you will ever go through, and repeatedly go through every single day. That is why most do not run, and

We also highlight two young women who are part of a new, more diverse generation of women leaders who took the most recent elections by storm. Chelsey Branham, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and life-long Oklahoman received her MA in International Studies from OU and has worked in non-profits throughout the state. Branham will serve District 83 alongside Ajay Pittman who won her race to represent District 99. Pittman graduated from OU just two years ago with a BA in Multidisciplinary Studies. She grew up in a political family and has followed in her mother’s, OU Alum Anastasia Pittman’s, footsteps. Ajay is only the third member of the Seminole Nation to serve in the Oklahoma legislature. We asked these four amazing women why they have entered public life and how they view the relationship between politics and higher ed. Be ready to feel inspired!

women especially. It takes a great deal of fortitude and you have to be really clear about your “why” and hold on to that when it gets rough. For me, continuing to go out every single day making myself vulnerable and continuing to do the taxing work, is a small sacrifice if it means we might actually be able to make Oklahoma a better place for ourselves and the children that are counting on us to give them an opportunity to thrive. It has definitely shown me the resilience and fortitude of myself, my neighbors and my community, and seeing that strength gives me hope that we will be able to weather any storm. How did OU prepare you for public life, or help launch your political career?

extremely rigorous list of demands. I do not think higher education is the right answer for everyone in that not everyone needs a degree to contribute to society and the economy. However, I do think the competing ideas and experiences higher education environments expose students to is an essential component we have not yet learned to replicate outside of higher ed. Without encountering those types of lessons, we are not challenged to step outside of our worldview and find creative and inclusive solutions. My generation’s challenge and that of the generation coming up behind us is to figure out how to bottle that experience and spread it like wildfire. Higher ed is not the only answer, but it is certainly on to something. ♀

One of the biggest challenges we are facing as a state is our wildly volatile economy and underfunded budget. Part of my effectiveness as a candidate was my economics background and experience, which I received from the College of International Studies at OU. While I could have run for public office without the aid of my higher education, I certainly would not have been able to contribute as effectively to finding economic solutions to change our trajectory. I also worked fulltime to support myself and my education while completing full-time bachelor’s and master’s degrees at OU, so I learned how to be an adult and to manage an PROFMAGAZINE ♀ 34

Breea Clark City of Norman Council-member of Ward Six

in Ward 6 once told me that her daughter said she wanted to be like me when she grows up. I love being able to help people, and serving as a role model is icing on the cake.

Why did you choose to go into public office?

Does being a woman give you a unique perspective?

I felt disconnected from local government, and I wanted to help build a stronger relationship between the city of Norman and Ward 6 residents.

First, I think our priorities are different, because we deal with issues that a man may not have any experience with. Second, I have also noticed a difference in communication style. We have some male councilmembers who get their point across by yelling or slamming their hands on the dais. I just don’t see that from the female council-members.

What does serving the public mean to you personally? I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Norman City Council. I have done my best to leave Norman better than I found it as well as to help residents be better connected with local government. I absolutely love helping people with issues that affect them in their daily lives, and it has been an honor to be a voice for people who might not otherwise have an advocate on the dais. I have also attempted to serve in a way that inspires other women to run for office, but also encourages young people to be more involved with local government. I about died when a mom who lives

How did working in higher ed prepare you for serving, or in what ways does it affect your work? Working at the University of Oklahoma specifically has definitely impacted my service as the city of Norman and OU work together and partner on a variety of issues. Some residents have shared concerns that I will always vote for my employer, which is simply not the case. Working for

over 10 years in the specific office of Academic Integrity gave me a strong foundation in integrity generally. I don’t make decisions to get reelected. Making the right vote versus the easy vote has given me huge peace of mind. In terms of higher ed generally, I appreciate the family feel that can be seen among staff as well as the faculty and staff within individual colleges and departments. I see similarities among city staff, and I believe my professional experience has helped me to communicate more effectively with them. I also feel that working on a college campus has allowed me to be more connected with millennials and Gen Z young people more so than people who don’t have this regular interaction with them. ♀

Aleisha Karjala City of Norman Council-member of Ward Two 2016-18

Why did you choose to go into public office? I care about people, and I love politics and policy. Serving as an elected official means that I can make policy that is fair and will positively affect people while simultaneously advocating for the issues that are important to me, such as education, social justice, public arts and the environment. I ran for City Council the first time in 2014, lost, ran again in 2016, and won. Earning the opportunity to serve people is incredible and daunting! City Council is very hands-on and personal; you get to know the people you represent very well. Did being a woman give you a unique perspective? Yes and no. A good public servant brings all their “skills”



to the job, of course. I felt very fortunate to serve on the first female majority City Council in Norman, but I also saw and experienced bullying and gendered behavior that was accepted. In what ways did being a faculty member prepare you for public life/service? There are things we do as faculty members that are great preparation for public service — we engage in public speaking constantly, we take positions based on reasons and evidence (not just emotion), and we are (mostly) articulate. I am fortunate that my university values service and encouraged my decision to run for office. What I do in the classroom and what I did at City Hall are symbiotic. What does the future hold for you in terms of public service? I made the decision to give up my City Council seat in 2018 to run for an open State Senate seat. I lost in a very close threeperson primary. I continue to think of myself as a public servant/public official and do hope that I will have other opportunities to serve! ♀

Ajay Pittman

State Representative-Elect, Oklahoma House District 99 Why did you run for office? The decision to run for office was not easy and was not planned, but I knew it was one I had to make. My community faces difficulties every day and these challenges are often ignored. My goal is to bring awareness to those issues through community partnerships and expose people who have never lived in northeast Oklahoma City. My mom, State Senator Anastasia Pittman, nominee for Lt. Governor who also attended the University of Oklahoma, helped pave the way for me. She brought awareness and solutions to my community by representing the voices of her constituents as a former staffer and elected official at the State Capitol for almost 20 years. I chose to run for office because I felt a sense of duty to continue that legacy of leadership towards building a better future for the constituents of House District 99.

I accepted the challenge to run as a millennial because our voices are often drowned out by some who believe we are too young to lead. I ran to set an example for other young women, but especially young women of color, that with determination and hard work anything is possible. What did your running represent or mean to you personally? My grandparents and parents who are Native American citizens have taught me the value of hard work, the importance of learning policy and advocacy for the betterment of all people. I am the third Seminole Nation citizen elected to our state legislature, and I have learned to honor my heritage and respect my culture. I believe that service is best described by a quote I once heard: “Service is the price that you pay for the space you occupy.” I grew up in the halls of the State Capitol and I learned about the legislative process first hand. I knew the importance

of public service and learned quickly that it was something I wanted to pursue. I believe public service is shown by your daily actions and can be amplified by holding a public title. Through service we show our neighbors and members of our community that we care for one another. “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” How did OU prepare you for public life, or help launch your political career?

is only one avenue to service. [People] have many [outlets] to serve in their communities and it may not always be through graduation. There are many students who desire higher education, but lack the opportunity to pursue a degree. However, a lack of post graduate education does not mean they are hindered from their value of becoming public servants. Life experiences will also lead you to opportunities for higher education and giving back to society. ♀

The University of Oklahoma gave me a larger platform to learn, lead and serve. I learned so much more about leadership and service being a PLC Scholar, OU Tour Guide and as Assistant to the Director of Henderson Scholars program in Student Life. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve the university community. I built a skill-set while working on campus projects and policies that directly impacted the lives of future students and their families. I believe that the link between higher education and public life


LaShonda Williamson-Jennings

President of Sally’s List and Associate Coordinator, CAPT Southwest Resource Team By Maura McAndrew LaShonda Williamson-Jennings is a busy woman. In her full-time day job, she works with the Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies Southwest Team (based at the University of Oklahoma) helping communities address issues of substance abuse. Outside of work, she pursues a second community-based passion as president of Sally’s List, an organization that recruits and trains progressive women to run for office in the state of Oklahoma. It’s an important, exciting job in a state with a deep-red, male-dominated government that saw an uptick in female candidates this year. We spoke with Williamson-Jennings, who recently spoke about her work with Sally’s list at Oklahoma’s annual OK-Wise Conference, which celebrates the impact of Oklahoma Women, especially in STEM fields. We discussed her dual careers, her passion for education and community, and her strong belief in women supporting one another. proF: First of all, I wanted to ask you about your day job. Can you explain what CAPT is all about and what your role entails? LWJ: What we do is provide workforce development and problem-solving support to states and tribes around substance abuse prevention issues. I provide training, and I help states and tribes do strategic planning. We’re under a federal contract from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The best way to explain it is that the federal government has offered assistance for behavioral health to states and tribal systems so that they can strengthen their workforce. It’s really about: how do we communicate this message around substance abuse? I am, at the heart of it, a community support. I’m the associate coordinator, and I provide support to our team who work in nine states and with five tribes. Oklahoma just happens to be one of the states that we work with, and we’re located at the University of Oklahoma. Our reach is really beyond

just OU, but we forward the mission of the university by providing service to the community. proF: As a magazine about higher ed., we’re always interested in women’s paths to their careers. How did you get into this field? LWJ: I was a history major at OU, but I went on to get a master’s degree from Northwestern Oklahoma State University. My hometown is in Northwest Oklahoma. When I graduated I just needed a job, and there was an opening for a substance abuse prevention specialist at a standalone community agency. And I thought, “I can do that. I can prevent access to alcohol in young people; I can work with the community.” There was a huge emphasis on planning and communicating. And I applied, and that was about 15 years ago. I had received my master’s degree in adult education, and I realized that the work I was doing in adult education and administration really translated over to substance abuse prevention — especially the way that adults learn and process things, and the things we can do to help communities at risk and to mitigate that risk. And I just decided, “I love this.” proF: What prompted you to pursue a master’s in adult education? What was your original goal? LWJ: I wanted to go into adult education and administration to work in a community college, because community colleges have been a bit of an oasis in the desert for women and for minorities. They offer an opportunity to go and get some higher education and still live in your community, and it’s affordable, and the classes are smaller, and it’s made for a broad variety of people who want to do different things. Oftentimes community colleges are quite nimble in terms of the fact that their job is to educate and release people back out into the community. Their job is maybe a little less theoretical and more practical. I wanted to provide education to adults who perceive that they could not

get to the University of Oklahoma, or to people who are living in small towns, who also want to be a part of the education system.

it was important to create Sally’s List for women who were looking for ways to put their strength into action.

I’m a believer in lifelong learning. I think that if we truly are forever learning, then we’re always being reared. We’re always being educated, whether it’s by life, or by friends, or on the job. And so I just wanted to get into a career in which I am constantly learning and the people around me are constantly learning, and that we continue to just stay curious — curious about how we can improve our community.

proF: What have the results been like for the organization? Did you recruit a lot of candidates to run in 2018?

proF: Can you tell me a little bit about Sally’s List and how and why you got involved? LWJ: Sally’s List’s mission is crystal-clear: we recruit, train and help progressive women get elected to public office. It’s important to me to do things that have a clear connection to my core values. And one core value — if I can be really mushy for a minute — is about loving people. To love people, to love ourselves and to love our communities. And so Sally’s List was an easy fit for me. Because if we as women are going to love ourselves, then our next step in loving ourselves and loving others is to also serve in public office, to serve on boards, to make sure that we are not only defenders of ourselves, but defenders of other women. Because ultimately, people care about their health, their wealth and their well-being. I believe that if women are not reflected on boards, as CEOs, as representatives of our government, then our needs are not addressed. And we still continue to struggle. When we’re talking about public office, there have not been many allies. So to have women who are allies for the women in their communities who are not going to run, who are not going to sit on a board — it is just so important. proF: It’s so wonderful you’re doing that work. LWJ: I love it, I love it! proF: How long has Sally’s List been active, and how did it get started? LWJ: Sally’s List has been around since 2010, and we were founded by a woman named Sara Jane Rose. She was with a small group of friends who wondered, “What can we do for women in the state of Oklahoma? What can we do to make sure that women’s voices are heard at Lincoln and 23rd — at our state capitol? How can we get more women’s voices heard on school boards and city councils?” And so she worked with this group of friends, and raised a couple of bucks and said ‘There’s this thing called Sally’s List that I want to bring to fruition.” It is difficult because we live in a state that’s not incredibly progressive. But I still think that there are a lot of progressive voices that speak out and often struggle to find each other. And she wanted Sally’s List to be a magnet for progressive women to come to and say, “I’ve always seen myself as a leader; I’ve always seen myself running for public office. I have this calling to serve my community, but I don’t know quite what to do.” She decided that 39


LWJ: This has been a banner year for us. I’m going to say that it’s 32 women that we have trained. And there are different levels of training that you can see on our website, What really pushed us over this year was the teacher’s strike. It seems like there are many people out there who are frustrated with what’s happening — what’s happening around education, what’s happening around health, what’s happening around safety in our state. And so when those teachers went out and began to strike, it just lit a fire in the bellies of people not only in the Oklahoma City metro area or the Tulsa area, but in smaller communities. People said, “I want to be a part of doing something different.” I think that once you become an adult, there’s this greater need to do something. You see the issues and you think, “Gosh, I want to do something; I need to do something.” And you wonder, “Who is going to link arms with me to address this something I want to address?” And to see those teachers out there just making a difference was just rallying folks. We have women like Julie Roach from Capitol Hill High School, who was not running before the teachers’ strike. We have Liz George, an attorney who was a part of the group of female attorneys who went to the capitol and supported teachers, who at the beginning of our political season was not running. Those are just two examples. And not only that, but it was important for those women to also support the other women who are already elected officials. They saw that there were folks like Cyndi Munson, [the late] Claudia Griffith and Forrest Bennett who were really taking a stand in our state legislature. We can’t simply lay the responsibility on those progressive people. We have to be a part of the solution. We have to link arms with them, not only in the community but at the state capitol. proF: What brought you to the OK-Wise conference, and why did you want to participate? LWJ: It was nice to have an invite. I love any opportunity to connect with women who support other women. I don’t necessarily work in the STEM field. My husband is STEM coordinator at Capitol Hill High School, and he talks about the importance of getting more women into STEM and entrepreneurship. I’m always excited to add something else to my tool belt to help me support women, to even help my husband be a better ally, and for me to be a better ally to women who don’t look like me. I love having the opportunity to have a weekend to talk about women, what women need to do to support each other, what women need to do to gain additional male allies, and for us to come to a place in which we are mobilized to do something. ♀

Swedish Meatballs By Jacque Braun

Now that the weather is changing and we are enjoying cooler temps, it’s time for some hearty, cold weather meals to warm us up. I love Ikea’s Swedish meatballs, but I have to drive three hours to the nearest Ikea. So here is my recipe. You may be tempted to make your Swedish meatballs with prepared meatballs. Don’t do it! These are easy and so tasty!

Ingredients: ½ lb. ground pork ½ lb. ground chuck (80/20) ½ medium onion, finely chopped (about ¼ cup) ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs ¼ tsp. allspice ½ tsp. garlic powder ½ tsp. salt ½ tsp. pepper

1 egg 1 Tbsp. olive oil 5 Tbsp. butter 3 Tbsp. flour 1 cup beef broth 1 pint heavy cream 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 1 tsp. Dijon mustard salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sized bowl, combine ground pork, ground beef, panko, allspice, onion, garlic powder, salt, pepper and egg. Mix until combined. Roll into 25 small meatballs. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the meatballs and cook, turning continuously until brown on each side and cooked throughout. Transfer to a plate. Add 4 tablespoons butter and flour to skillet and whisk for about 1 minute. Slowly stir in beef broth and heavy cream. Add worchestershire sauce and dijon mustard and bring to a simmer until sauce starts to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the meatballs back to the skillet and simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with roasted potatoes and lingonberries (or cranberry sauce if you can’t find lingonberries). ♀

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