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Whitworth Student Pursues Goal of Creating New Opportunities for College Women

Whitworth senior Katie Linder is finding and creating many opportunities to pursue her passion to be an advocate for feminist issues, gender equality, and social justice.

After attending last year's National Network of Presbyterian College Women Conference in New York City, the English literature/writing major and women's studies minor was inspired and supported by the NNPCW to start a program called WISE -- Women in Society Everywhere -- at Whitworth in fall 2003. WISE is a feminist group aimed at educating and supporting women and men on the Whitworth campus.

"I had been thinking for about a year of starting a gender group at Whitworth," Linder says. "I saw that there was a need as I talked to women and men around campus and in my classes for an open forum where questions could be asked and discussions about gender issues could occur."

The "core four," as Linder calls WISE's leadership, comprises Linder, Denise Burningham, '05, and Maren Haynes and Crystal Bryan, both '06. Approximately 40 students attended WISE's first meeting, held in February 2004; the group has since been growing rapidly.

Associate Professor of English and Director of the Women's Studies Program Pamela Corpron Parker, '81, says she is thrilled that Linder created this opportunity, since women's studies is an area that is often invisible on college campuses.

"People have the misconception that women's studies is passé, that it's a been-there-done-that type of thing, and that there are no longer any problems with inequality between males and females, even when there is empirical data proving otherwise," Parker says. "Historically women's studies has been under-funded and understaffed in tight academic budgets because it's not viewed as a 'necessary' area of study.

"To its credit, Whitworth has incorporated gender equity as part of its Christian mission, but feminist ideas and methods still receive genuine resistance in traditional institutions like colleges and churches. I'm grateful for Katie's commitment to this community; We need her voice and her leadership at Whitworth, because we still have some work to do here."

In addition to coordinating WISE, Linder is serving on the planning committee for the 2004 NNPCW conference, to be held in Los Angeles in July. Linder, Haynes and fellow Whitworth students Courtney Daly, '05, and Cecelia Laverty, '06, along with alumna Summer Cushman, '04, will attend the conference through sponsorship from Whitworth's Lilly Vocation grant and Murdock Lives of Commitment grant.

The NNPCW, a ministry of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is rooted in the Reformed tradition and aims to nurture young women's spiritual development through study, discussion, prayer and action, according to the group's website, www.pcusa.org/nnpcw.

This year's conference "Claiming Wisdom's Call: How Christian Faith Empowers Women to Engage Pop Culture from an Anti-Racist Perspective," will focus on women, Christianity, pop culture and race issues. Linder will co-lead a Bible study and act as a leader for the participants, as well as plan workshops on the topics of the oppression of women through advertising and how to start small groups, such as WISE, at colleges and universities nationwide.

"The goal of the conference is to provide women a space in which they can feel comfortable asking questions about faith and feminism, God and the Church, and how all these things can fit into their lives as women and as college students," Linder says.

Linder received the 2004 McDonald's Opportunity Award and has been appointed Whitworth's first gender opportunity advocate. The position's responsibilities include working with the NNPCW, with WISE, and with the community on women's issues, coordinating events for women's agencies such as YWCA fundraisers, possibly working with Spokane County Domestic Violence, as well as putting together campus fundraisers and/or educational presentations at Whitworth in order to raise awareness concerning the needs of these social agencies.

"I have found many mentors at Whitworth who have pushed me to pursue my goals of advocating for and working with women," Linder says. "Both the English and the women's-studies departments have always supported my questions about gender and faith."

After graduating in 2005, Linder plans to earn a master's degree in gender studies, then possibly to pursue a doctoral degree and to work in the nonprofit sector or teach at a university. At the heart of this passionate Christian feminist's goals lies a deep desire to empower and inspire the lives of the women she encounters.

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