Campus Book Project moves students to action

Half the Sky, a novel based on empowering women, is the focus of this year’s Campus Book Project, and has inspired UC Davis students to take matters into their own hands.

The authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, argue that the worldwide oppression of women is “the paramount moral challenge” of the 21st century, and their novel is currently featured in two classes at UC Davis: a freshman seminar as well as a humanities class. It has also been read by students of the Davis Honors Challenge, and has inspired the creation of Voices for Opportunity, a UC Davis fundraising organization. The novel has also been featured by a Davis seminar series titled Women in Leadership.

“It was chosen for its global appeal and impact on women, as well as the importance that it places on education,” said Mikael Villalobos, the chair of the Campus Book Project.

Two first-year students from the Davis Honors Challenge were inspired to create Voices for Opportunity, which chooses a non-profit organization to sponsor every quarter. This quarter, addressing Half the Sky’s emphasis on the importance of education for women, they are sponsoring the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED).

CAMFED supports the education of girls in rural Africa. Through the program, girls are provided with school essentials and are offered access to everything from girls’ clubs that offer peer mentoring to money management and business training and global speaking opportunities, according to CAMFED’s website.

“We’re being treated to an amazing education at UC Davis, and we want to expand that to others,” said Kimberly Berg, a first-year genetics major and the vice president of fundraising at Voices for Opportunity.

According to the president of Voices for Opportunity, Heather Nguyen, a first-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior and English double major, they hope to expand into more elaborate fundraisers in the future.

At the moment, Voices for Opportunity tables at various events for Half the Sky, and takes donations for CAMFED.

While the novel focuses on oppression that women face today, it is also intended to be a tool for readers to take matters into their own hands, suggesting “Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes” to improve the lives of women worldwide.

The book also has an appendix which lists various organizations that support women, and according to Villalobos, also addresses oppression that women face in the United States.

“Its salient to address that women face worldwide oppression,” Villalobos said.

Women in Leadership is another project on campus that was started by Nicole Chaffee and Jeni Lee, two Ph.D. students in the designated emphasis in the biotechnology graduate program.

With the help of the UC Davis Biotechnology Program director, Dr. Judy Kjelstrom, they seek to facilitate dialogue about issues facing women in leadership, and to improve the lives of women in the United States.

The Women in Leadership Seminar Series mission is in line with Voices for Opportunity and the Campus Book Project, hoping to raise awareness of gender imbalances and to promote equality.

The Women in Leadership series has offered several film showings, including a screening of Half the Sky on Oct. 23.

To combat problems of gender equality that exist even in the United States, Women In Leadership will host a panel session on Dec. 2 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the UC Davis Conference Center.

The panel will be made of up six female leaders in academia, state government and industry, including UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi.

The panel will consist of a discussion facilitated by Chaffee and Lee, as well as audience generated questions. Chaffee and Lee seek to inspire other women to pursue their passions and improve gender equality, especially in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) related fields.

“If you have more women at the top, they can speak for the women that are below,” Chaffee said.

According to Catalyst.org, women hold less than 5 percent of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies, even though more women than men earned PhDs in 2010.

“As women in science, we face that [stigma] all of the time. It’s little things, you don’t really realize what’s going on. It’s a unique form of discrimination,” Lee said.

These projects are all centered around or featuring Half the Sky, and are attempting to bring light on the problems that women face.

“We’re increasing awareness towards what women experience and what we as individuals can do,” Villalobos said.