This blog post was written by Fall 2014 SOHP Intern Rachel Worsham
When I began my internship at the Southern Oral History Program, I was excited to hear that we would be researching and gathering oral histories related to feminist activism at UNC. Sure, I expected this project to be interesting and relevant, as I am a woman and consider myself a feminist. However, I did not expect what I was learning to challenge how I perceive myself as a student at this university.
Before my time as an intern, I simply did not consider my gender as something that made me unique. Why would I? For the most part, I have been treated exactly the same as my male counterparts in classes, organizations and residential communities. If anything, I considered myself the epitome of ordinary, as almost 60% of students at UNC are women. Yet, upon exploring the oral histories of women at UNC, I have come to discover that being a woman makes me anything but ordinary. I am the product of the efforts of many brave women who have fought tirelessly to be treated as equals in place historically dominated my men.
Listening to the interviews of Mary Turner Lane, Sharon Rose Powell and Maggie O’Connor has shown me that women have not always had it easy at UNC. Female students, for many years, were not even admitted to UNC. Once they were granted this right, women were oppressed the university’s in loco parentis policy, which allowed administrators to act as the student’s parents. This meant women faced rules and regulations on many subjects, including restrictions on dress, chosen course of study and living arrangements. Gender limitations were not only applied to students, as female faculty members often had trouble securing jobs, promotions and equal pay at UNC. It is very difficult, based upon my experience at this university, to imagine such policies being embraced and encouraged by students and faculty as recently as forty years ago. Yet, this new understanding of women’s history at UNC has led me to think differently about my place at this university.
I have come to understand myself as a fortunate product of the feminist struggle at UNC. Rather than consider my status as a female student something that allows me to blend in, I now understand it as a testament to the change the women have produced at UNC in the last century. Although women certainly have a long way to go, the interviews in our database are a comforting sign that further change is entirely possible, as history shows that Carolina women rock!