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At Brazil symposium, Barnard students discuss female leadership

  • BARNARD ABROAD | Adriana Moore, BC '15, Victoria Steinbruch, BC '14, Mariany Polanco, BC '13, Mary Glenn, BC '13, Dhvani Tombush, BC '15, and Annelise Finney, BC '15, attended the Women Creating Change symposium in São Paulo over spring break.

With its first-ever female president and a record 10 female cabinet members, Brazil is no stranger to women leaders.

So São Paulo was a natural choice for Barnard’s fifth annual global symposium, Women Changing Brazil, which took place over spring break. Six students, four professors, and Barnard President Debora Spar visited the country for a week of panels and workshops centered on female leadership.

Eleonora Menicucci, Brazil’s minister of the Secretariat of Policies for Women and one of those 10 cabinet members, gave the symposium’s keynote address.

Menicucci and the other panelists “showed that we have a lot to learn from a country governed by women and from citizens who support the success of women at many levels,” Hilary Link, Barnard’s vice provost, said in a statement. “The list of government-sponsored initiatives to protect, promote, and support women was inspiring and overwhelming.” 

“Brazil proved to be the perfect location,” Link added. 

More than 400 people attended the symposium, which featured noted Brazilian panelists hailing from academia, politics, and the arts, including Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa, BC ’06, and Duilia de Mello, an astronomer at NASA and a professor of astronomy at Catholic University. Over the course of the week, they discussed the relationship between art and activism, the role of women in science, and the definition of leadership.

“Brazil is at the forefront of what people are watching in terms of economic development and simultaneously trying to tackle social issues that go along with that,” Mary Glenn, BC ’13 and one of the six student fellows selected to attend the symposium, said. 

Glenn, along with Dhvani Tombush, BC ’15, Annelise Finney, BC ’15, Adriana Moore, BC ’15, Victoria Steinbruch, BC ’14, and Mariany Polanco, BC ’13, organized a workshop on gender discrimination in the workplace for Brazilian high school girls.

The workshop, which Glenn called the highlight of her experience in Brazil, included a workplace simulation and a discussion of the meaning of leadership.

The high school students “got really, really into it and they were really passionate about their ideas about leadership and what the workshop brought out for them that they hadn’t heard before,” Glenn said. “It was really cool to hear all of their ideas.”

In addition to the student fellows, four Barnard professors attended the symposium as faculty fellows, which provided them the opportunity to conduct research in Brazil in their chosen fields.

Dance professor Colleen Thomas-Young, who has visited Brazil with her company multiple times, taught a dance workshop in São Paulo as part of the symposium. 

“I was interested in those two worlds of mine meeting and seeing what other possibilities there were for collaborative research there,” Thomas-Young said. 

Thomas-Young found a discussion between Brazilian graffiti artist and activist Panmela Castro and filmmaker Katia Lund about self-identifying as a feminist particularly interesting. 

“There was this dialogue between the two of them that really made me think about how people define themselves and if you are for equality, how important is it to take that stance,” Thomas-Young said. “It made me think about how people define themselves and how much we differ in those instances.”

Glenn said the symposium challenged the notion that leadership is limited to the workplace. Panelists discussed how women can be leaders in the home, too.

Past global symposiums have brought Barnard students to Beijing, Dubai, Johannesburg, and Mumbai, and administrators plan to bring the program to Morningside Heights next year.

“We are looking forward to bringing all past symposium participants to New York City on the occasion of Barnard’s 125th anniversary,” Link said.

samantha.cooney@columbiaspectator.com | @sammcooney

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