The CEW Stories Project

 This fall, we are preparing to launch a new section of our website permanently dedicated to showcasing the stories of the many women and men who have beneited from our programs or have helped in some way to meet the Center’s mission. Over the past summer, we interviewed more than twenty women and men who have either received scholarships, grants or counseling or who have participated in our workshops and committees. The purpose of the CEW Stories Project is to create, maintain and publish an online archive of individual stories that demonstrate the diference CEW has made in many lives. The CEW Stories Project will be a multimedia presentation including video and audio stories, photos and written biographies. While each story is di
ferent, some of the common themes we’ve heard this summer are about the importance of mentorship, votes of conidence, and safe spaces where frank discussions can be held. Several people describe CEW as a touchstone in their lives that provided some or all of those things during times of change or adjustment. We are proud of the achievements of our CEW family and look forward to sharing their stories with you this fall.

Ciara Townsend

Ciara Townsend came to CEW this summer as an intern with the University’s Arts of Citizenship Program, which supports U-M faculty and students doing “publically engaged, innovative work in the arts, humanities and design.” Here, Ciara writes about her experiences as a member of the CEW Stories Project.

When I arrived in Ann Arbor last year to start my PhD in History, I noticed a few things about Michigan: the tornado siren, blistering cold, and a blue sign downtown bearing the inscription “Center for the Education of Women.” I was intrigued. What was a Center for the Education of Women? What did it do? Unsure as I was, it made me feel safe, happy and affirmed to know that such a place existed at my University. “Here is a place that values what I am doing,” I thought. 

The education of women was not a priority in the community in which I grew up. In fact, the very phrase was an indicator of something unnecessary, frightening and even evil. Among my peers in a strict religious community, I was the only woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. I owe that achievement to my mother’s love of learning and personal investment in my education, a beautiful rebellion that gave me the chance, literally, to walk down Liberty Street. Time and again, I glanced up at the CEW sign and felt a sense of wonder and gratitude for the women whose labors opened this world of opportunity and independence for me. In March 2011, I received an invitation to apply for the Arts of Citizenship internship program at Rackham Public Humanities Institute. Among the three available positions was an oral history project at CEW that immediately caught my eye. CEW was looking for a researcher to collect, archive and present stories from its history. At the core of the project was a question about change: How do women change their own lives for the better, and what help do they need to do it? “This is my project,” I thought. “I was made for this.”

I could immediately identify the catalyst of change in my own life: the literature professor at community college who asked a working-class girl whether she might want to write for a living. “I’ve always wanted that,” I had told him, “but how could I afford to eat?” His answer knocked down my wall of excuses like a pile of baby blocks. “You should go to grad school,” he said. “You could become a professor, like me.” Bill Meiers’ words, coupled with the mentorship of other professors, propelled me from that classroom, through my bachelor’s degree at a small liberal arts school and a master’s at Cambridge, until I landed in Michigan, staring up at the CEW sign and wondering what had become of my old life.

I applied to the CEW internship eagerly, but with trepidation. I’d never taken a Women’s Studies class. I did early modern history–a field in which interviews, as a rule, are out of the question. Would I be taken seriously? I was delighted to be called in within a few days and offered the position.

Working for CEW has been an honor and a pleasure. The commitment of the Center to bettering the lives of women beams out of every story I hear. I’ve learned at last what CEW does: It is a catalyst for change. It provides scholarships, grants and counseling to women. It offers workshops to deal with thorny issues. It is a “safe space,” as numerous women have told me, to discuss and deal with the wearying issues of life as a student, teacher or working woman. CEW affirms, supports, and promotes women’s achievement, a necessary beacon of hope in a world where not every girl grows up to believe in herself.

This summer, I’ve had the privilege to speak to more than twenty participants in CEW workshops and counseling as well as scholarship and grant recipients. I’ve been a writer, editor and producer for the website on which we’ll showcase video and audio clips along with written stories of the lives of CEW alumni. I’ve learned to organize, plan, and execute a public presentation as well as the details of scripting videos and writing short biographies. CEW has helped that bewildered working-class girl trying on her academic glasses to learn to look in the mirror and see a professional.

CEW and Arts of Citizenship have offered me this chance to become a public scholar, to think widely about the influence my work might have and how to leverage my skills in service to the public. That obfuscating word, “public,” means very specific things to me: It means returning the faith invested in me to the next working-class girl who has no idea what it means to use her brain for a living, or indeed that life might not just be framed in terms of making a living. It means throwing down the drawbridges and draining the moats that separate the academy from the people whose insights, won through living, it needs to remain vital. It means listening first in conversations outside the classroom and speaking only when I fully understand what needs to be said. It means working for a future wherein “public scholarship” is a redundancy and “the life of the mind” is a choice not determined by one’s clothes, accent, color, sex or parents. The word “public” attached to “scholarship” tells the hopeful would-be student standing on the steps of a university with a reckless, audacious, inexplicable need to learn, “Your intellect matters. You are welcome here. The door is unlocked. Come in.”

Simonetta Menossi

Simonetta Menossi is a graduate student, videographer, editor and researcher for the CEW Stories Project. She has assisted with filming video interviews for the project as well as editing and producing video and audio clips for the section of the CEW website that will showcase the stories.

Originally from Italy, Simonetta came to the United States in 2004, after finishing her bachelor’s degree at the Universita degli Studi di Udine. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Film Studies from Emory University, studying space in the 1960s Italian cinema.

Simonetta came to the University of Michigan in 2008. While exploring new topics, she took a course on stardom and developed an interest in the early 20th century intersection of opera and silent film. She is particularly interested in those opera singers who were recruited to perform in the new silent film industry in Hollywood despite the obvious missing element in the new medium: sound. Simonetta plans to explore how class and gender influenced the careers of opera singers in their original context as well as in film.

Simonetta enjoys her research at the University of Michigan, in particular noting its wealth of resources for studying film. “I chose the University of Michigan because it’s a great school, because of the resources that it has,” she says. She also enjoys her position as a Graduate Student Instructor for her department. “One of the things
that I really, really enjoy here is teaching,” Simonetta says. “So far I’ve been teaching Intro to Film, where I help my students analyze films from The Social Network to Terminator.” Simonetta is working on  Pedagogy paper titled “Chalk Power: Teaching Film on the Blackboard,” exploring a teaching methodology based in drawing.

“I will have an academic career,” she says. “I don’t have much opportunity to do editing and shooting. So this project is a treat for me. It’s a great environment; I love coming to work every day. “ Simonetta’s expertise in film editing has been invaluable to the CEW Story Project.

Please Join In

We invite you to share your own CEW story. You are welcome to call us and set up a time to talk or to go to our website and ill out our webform http://www.cew.umich.edu/webform/tell-us-your-story, where you can also upload pictures to share with your story. We look forward to hearing from you.