I had never taken an art history course, so I decided to cross it off my bucket list. My professor began the class by discussing her favorite piece of art, Maya Lin’s ’91 ARC ’86 Women’s Table. She mentioned the way it fits right into campus to demonstrate the way that women belong, and always should have belonged, here at Yale. Needless to say, I instantly signed up for the course.
Living in Berkeley College, I walk by the Women’s Table every day. Most days, I walk by it absent-mindedly. It’s just another Yale landmark. The intention of the structure, after all, is to remind people that women belong in the heart of campus without a second glance. Occasionally, I look up and smile as a child splashes in its waters or as a tour guide preaches to some wide-eyed tourists. But there are times I have stopped and just stared, taking it all in. Those are usually times when the campus is in turmoil, stricken with grief. I believe the Women’s Table is often a reflection of campus sentiment.
I will never forget the day it looked after the 2016 election, or littered with yellow umbrellas to honor those in Hong Kong, or the day Kavanaugh was appointed. I’ve seen people crying and hugging around it, completely broken, hopeless, scared at what the future holds. I’ve seen people shouting from it at subsequent rallies and vigils. But I’ve also seen people dancing on the top and others taking wedding photos, reminding me that Yale can be a place of joy, as well.
Every time I look at the Women’s Table, I am reminded of the unity I feel. I am reminded that there are women who will rise up when the time calls for it. People who understand what it’s like to feel like they don’t belong in a male-dominant classroom or that their identity is used to tokenize consulting events. It demonstrates that Yale has a legacy of strong women who have persisted 150, 50, and even five years ago
I think women have been afforded the unfortunate stereotype of judgmental gossips, taught to tear each other down rather than build each other up. Society prizes the “guy’s girl,” the girl without any drama. (Quite honestly, though, my male peers are just as, if not, more dramatic.) But when I think about the female peers in my life, I think about those that are unapologetically passionate about traditionally male-dominated spheres — aerospace or international security. I think about all the women who looked out for my well-being and made sure I got home safe. I think about my suitemates who equally tease and support me. To imagine a Yale without these people seems as foreign to me as a Yale without Sterling Memorial Library or residential colleges.
This does not mean that we should forget those that fought ardently for their acceptance into an age-old institution, or that the acceptance of women means that the fight against discrimination has been won. Instead, we should be grateful for how much they succeeded. Because of them, we can’t imagine a Yale without women today with female leaders and academics across campus constantly pushing us to be better.
There is still work to be done. The power dynamic is still present, whether that be that female students are not taken as seriously as my male peers are, or that women are still harassed at alarming rates paired with a lack of male accountability. As I write this, Yale is facing a lawsuit about its sexual climate, professors being charged of sexual misconduct are still fresh in our minds and we are still feeling the repercussions of a return of a student who was suspended for sexual assault. Women faculty members are still greatly outnumbered, and STEM classes are gender unbalanced.
I firmly believe that Yale is lucky to have us. But I also believe that because we’ve been afforded the privilege of attending Yale, we have an obligation. An obligation to future female and gender nonbinary Yalies to keep fighting for a more accountable and inclusive Yale. An obligation to those who don’t even have access to an education. An obligation to females who don’t have access to reproductive care or a right to employment. When we graduate, we will continue to face unique challenges as women, but we will also have been afforded many privileges that should be used to empower other women. After all, education is power. And as women who have been afforded such power, we should use it wisely.
Next time you walk by the Women’s Table, I encourage you to stop and look. Appreciate the women on this campus — your professors, your dining hall workers, your librarians, your friends and girlfriends. The women I’ve met here are resilient. They are brilliant. And they are kind. Yale would not be the same without them.
Hala El Solh is a senior in Berkeley College. She writes a regular column for the news every other week. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .