President Folt kicked off Women’s History Month on Wednesday with a virtual event showcasing the stories of female trailblazers from USC and beyond, many of whom have paved the way in various professional fields and personal spaces.
In an online seminar dubbed “Celebrating Trailblazers and their Stories” Folt pointed to the successes of women in sports like Billie Jean King, Barbara Hedges and Allyson Felix. Hedges grew the number of women’s sports teams at USC from five to 12 since starting in 1973 –– the same year Congress enacted Title IX.
Title IX, a landmark federal rights law, prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or educational program that receives federal funding.
“We celebrate Women’s History Month as a diverse range of accomplishments, perspectives, and experiences of women around the world, in the United States and here at USC,” Monique Allard, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs said. “We honor all we have overcome, achieved and continue to work towards as women.”
Since the passing of Title IX, the USC women’s sports teams have achieved 36 national team championship titles and 91 NCAA Individual Female champions. USC has also produced 149 female olympians including Allyson Felix, the most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history and the namesake of USC’s main track field.
Folt applauded Felix in her speech, calling the trailblazing athlete “a proud Trojan and a national voice for women in sports, maternity rights and women’s health.”
At 32 weeks pregnant, doctors diagnosed Felix with a severe preeclampsia – a potentially life-threatening, pregnancy-related complication, according to the CDC. Felix’s attentiveness to health and fitness helped doctors detect the condition early – a potentially life saving action. The Olympic gold medalist has since joined the CDC’s Hear Her campaign to educate women about the urgent warning signs of pregnancy-related complications.
Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was a playwright in residence at the School of Dramatic Arts and biography professor in Dornsife, who paved the way for the first joint-appointment between a college and professional school. Folt described Holland as “a trailblazer for women in higher ed, including me.”
In her speech, Folt continued to highlight accomplished female students at USC such Amani Ghonim, Lt. Margaret Dante and Lt. Lindsey Evans. Ghonim was the first ever female chief engineer behind the student-designed race car in USC racing history. Lt. Dante and Lt. Evans are proud Trojans who were members of the all-female naval aviation team at the Super Bowl pre-game flyover.
“Everyday, women everywhere and here at USC are changing the ways things are done,” Folt said.
Folt touted the historical strides women have made in recent years, but acknowledged that roadblocks remain.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress since Title IX passed, but our work doesn’t stop here. Today’s challenges may look a bit different but at their core the challenges remain the same,” Folt said. “They’re all about ensuring women at USC and everywhere have access, inclusion, respect and voice.”
Some featured guest speakers at the event commended their loved ones for paving the way. Donna Elliot, vice dean for medical education at the USC Keck School of Medicine, said her mother broke barriers as a Black woman in the world of business and healthcare.
“She showed me how not to be afraid of a challenge, how to work hard and how to do the right thing even if you’re not recognized or rewarded as others are,” Elliot said.
The licensed physician said she learned from her mother how to work twice as hard to receive equal recognition amid “limits” based on gender and race.
“Hearing my mother’s words daily, I strive to always work hard, think out of the box and to strive for excellence in all that I do,” Elliott said. “I hope that women can be recognized as the leaders, the scholars and the trailblazers that we are.”
USC hopes to echo Elliot’s calling through a packed slate of celebrations throughout the month.
On Thursday, the University will be hosting the 2023 USC Women’s Conference, which aims to bring together women, nonbinary and transgender people of all ages and backgrounds to inspire positive change in their personal lives.
The university hopes to empower women in workplaces historically dominated by men. In 2019, USC Viterbi achieved gender parity in its entering class. In 2021, USC Marshall, achieved gender parity for the first time ever.
The University hopes to expand on that progress in a March 7 conversation between the USC Center for the Political Future and Martha Escuita, a former California legislator and first woman to chair the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees.
At the end of the month, USC hopes to wrap up Women’s History Month with an inspiring message for young students in the L.A. area. On March 25, high school girls from LAUSD schools will have the opportunity to meet with influential women in politics and business to cultivate community engagement and public service on USC campus.