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Four Years at the Mount

Senior year

Women in America

Katie Powell
MSM Class of 2015

(7/2015) When I was 11 years old, I went on a trip to Guatemala, a country in Central America. Until that point, the only life I had experienced was the life of American privilege. East coast summers are decently hot, but all you need to do is turn on the AC and you’re cool and comfortable.

Guatemala is practically on the equator and most people in the country barely have electricity, let alone an air conditioner. At my home in New Jersey, I had a habit of taking naps on the carpet in my living room. In the average Guatemalan home, families have dirt floors.

My time in Guatemala was spent volunteering to help build the second floor of an elementary school that was next to a dilapidated home where 5 children lived. The 2 boys attended the school; the 3 girls were not allowed because the family could not afford tuition for all 5 children. Visiting Guatemala opened my eyes to how lucky I was to have grown up where I did. My opportunities as a woman, educationally and as an athlete are virtually unparalleled in other countries, which makes me so grateful and proud to be an American.

Until that trip to Guatemala, I had never considered myself entitled, I had never thought of myself as especially privileged, or anything of the like. Coming home from that trip, I felt guilty turning on the air conditioning. The thought of leaving food on my plate at the end of a meal was appalling. Not wanting to go to school felt like a crime.

I have always been greatly involved in my community, and in the last 2 years, I have been given positions of greater authority. I never thought of the significance of my authority until I realized that women in some other countries have little power. There are countries where women’s submissiveness to men is a cultural norm—some women are challenging it, but they face a great deal of misogyny and adversity.

In the United States, we are in an era where women are senators and members of the House of Representatives, and some women are considering running for president. Personally, I am a chairperson for the student athlete committee at the Mount, I have been offered the position of being a member of the Institute for Leadership, and I have been selected as a Mount Ambassador, a representative of my community. When I think about the advancement of women in the United States over the last 100 years, I cannot help but be proud to be a modern American woman.

What an amazing transition, from being prohibited from voting, to running for president? Even in the last 43 years at the Mount—women could not be admitted in 1971, and in this coming year I will not only be a student, but will also hold 3 leadership positions on the Mount St. Mary’s University campus.

Often, I will think about those 3 girls in Guatemala who watched their brothers get ready for school and leave every day, knowing their brothers were a priority to their parents. I imagine them cooking, cleaning, sewing, and seeing their brothers come home from school and show off their writing and reading skills, and I can see the despair in their faces as they realize they will never get to go to school alongside their counterparts. It deeply troubles me to know that there are countries where women are the second priority behind men. What makes me proudest is knowing that women in the United States are fighting- and winning- the fight against gender prejudice.

In a similar light, I am so thankful that I was raised in a country with a public education system. I have set lofty goals for myself professionally. When I take a moment to think about the fact that I was publically educated for grades 1 through 12, I realize that I would not have had any of the opportunities that I had taken advantage of growing up. I am 100% certain that, had I been living in Guatemala without a public school to attend, I would not be where I am today. I might not even be literate.

My education has been such an amazing opportunity for me. My self-confidence soared in kindergarten when I began to read. When I got my first A in a math class, I finally felt smart. When I made Dean’s List in college, the pride welled up inside me. I owe so much of who I am to my educational opportunities. My education has been my validation, has given me significance, and has provided me with the means to my professional ends. I am so fortunate that I was able to receive a quality education since age 5. Now, at age 21 and at the start of my senior year of college, I am so grateful to have grown up in a country that could educate me and give me the tools I needed to succeed.

Being a woman in the United States (as difficult as it can be, even in this century) used to be much more difficult, especially for athletic women. Since women were considered fragile and dainty, they did not do sports. In my house, my sister and I always played hockey, volleyball, soccer and basketball in our backyard. I cannot imagine growing up in a time when I would be prevented from getting outside and burning off some energy. Swimming, and sports in general, have been such a large part of my life, and without sports I can guarantee I would not be who I am today. Today, I am a division one swimmer.

What I wear every day for practice would have been considered immodest and scandalous 70 years ago, even though men were wearing much less. Today’s suits are logical, designed for performance rather than fashion. Women are now recognized more for their accomplishments in the pool rather than their bathing suits. When I compete, I am much more confident knowing that I am recognized for the work I put in to my sport to get to that competition, and not for the way my bathing suit looks.

My point is that the position of women then and now is part of the proof that the United States is a nation that is still progressing. While I occasionally get frustrated at the slow moving progress of Congress, or an essential bill not passing, I cannot help but believe in my nation. We are a country of doers, and we have been since our founding. Every century has their rebels fighting for a new equality, which keeps the United States on its toes. The success of a nation depends heavily on its ability to bob and weave the shots of the ages, to roll with the punches of time. Countries that refuse to adopt this nimble existence get left behind and trampled by protestors, new governments or corruption.

The United States was designed with a "come one, come all" premise, which allows it to perfectly curve with the changing tides. The United States of America is built for change. Our founding fathers anticipated deviations to come and designed the constitution to allow those changes to occur seamlessly. It is that expectation of variance, that willingness for difference, which makes me proud to be an American.

Read other articles by Katie Powell