Women's Leadership & Mentorship Program at Robert Morris University

The Reality of Sexual Assault on College Campuses













By Delaney Hassell, WLMP Member & Sentry Media News Editor

Every minute there are 20 people who fall victim to physical violence by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. College campuses are no exception to this statistic.

The CDC defined sexual violence as “a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.”

Sexual violence can also be described as acts such as unwanted sexual contact, non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, forced penetration of a victim, etc. Around 79 percent of female survivors of completed rape reported that they were first raped before the age of 25, according to the CDC.

College campuses are popular targets for sexual violence to occur. According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities earlier this year, 23 percent of undergraduate student women said that they had experienced sexual misconduct or sexual assault. A total of 11.7 percent of students from 27 universities who responded to the survey reported that they had experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact.

Lauren Rauscher, assistant professor of sociology and coordinator for the Women’s Leadership and Mentorship Program, said she has personally been informed of five assaults concerning students of Robert Morris. Employees of the university are considered mandatory or required reporters if they hear or are told something regarding sexual violence. Rauscher has been required to report sexual assaults multiple times.

“Since I have been at RMU, I have had to report two. And I’ve only been here for two years,” said Rauscher. “And so I have conversations with the people who were involved to let them know and just be very clear this doesn’t mean you have to pursue anything, but I have to make the report so someone will be in contact with you.”

The first six weeks of a college female’s freshman year is known as the “Rape Red Zone.” This is when young women who are college students are most at risk to experience sexual assault or rape. Rauscher also stated that alcohol is more often than not involved in these types of situations. Sexual assault isn’t limited to just a few universities; it can and does happen everywhere.

“I think it’s a problem on all college campuses. I think that one report makes it a problem,” said Rauscher.

– See more at: http://www.rmusentrymedia.com/news/2016/01/27/the-reality-of-sexual-assault-on-college-campuses/#sthash.A8f09gta.dpuf





Not There Yet: Why We Need Feminism


By Amber Pramann, WLMP Peer Mentor

I would consider myself a staunch feminist. That said, I often find myself shying away from the F word. I am not ashamed or fearful of what others think. Rather, I often find that the F word shuts other people down before they get deep into conversation. For example, some friends are quick to say that feminism is outdated and little more than a buzzword or an excuse for certain types of behavior. Even worse, 22 percent of respondents to a 2009 CBS poll felt “feminism” was an insult (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 19). What matters most is not the word we use but rather the awakening of the public to the sexism that is still prevalent in American culture today.

It is true that in the past few decades many strides have been made towards women’s rights and equality. This is clear in Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richard’s article “A Day Without Feminism” where the authors discuss the many advances that have been made for women since the 1970s. In particular, girls can now take physics and math and get into previously men’s only institutions like Columbia or Harvard. No longer are women relegated to the shadow of traditionally female roles like secretary, elementary school teacher, or childcare provider. Also, birth control and abortions are widely available and affordable.

Some might say, “We’ve made it. Equality has been reached”—a decidedly postfeminist view; however, this is not how I see the world. For example, Baumgardner and Richard note several places where problematic practices still exist. Specifically, women still cannot be priests in the Catholic church, girls can still lose membership in the National Honor Society if they “get [themselves] pregnant,” and in custody battles dads get the children 60 to 80 percent of the time (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 35-36). From my own experience I have seen the difficulties faced by women in the male-dominated STEM fields and corporate world. Candidates may have all the talent in the world, but in the end some companies’ higher ranks function as an old boy’s club. Their board is supposedly “diverse” with two elderly white males for every exception to the rule.

Feminism is not just about legal equality. In bell hook’s article “Feminist Politics: Where We Stand,” she comments that the main issue facing feminism is that “people do not understand sexism, or if they do, they think it is not a problem” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 37). From here she discusses the challenges that feminism has faced overtime, namely the white supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal power structures which threaten the potential for true sisterhood and which muddy feminism’s message. As bell hooks said, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 37). In a society rampant with all three of these behaviors, it is foolhardy to assume feminism has met its goal or is unnecessary.

Sexism (and racism) in the American higher education system is apparent to Adrienne Rich in her talk “Claiming an Education.” In her talk, Rich challenges women to actively claim their educations and to take “responsibility towards your selves,” noting that the weakness of higher education is the apparent exclusion of females and minority groups (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 28). To combat this, Rich moves that women respect their brain and instincts, demand respect from others, refuse to sell themselves short, and have the courage to stand out. With regard to education, she states women should expect to be taken seriously. Women should seek to think actively and engage with their professors such that “women’s minds will no longer by wasted, raveled-away, paralyzed, or denied” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 30).

Focusing in on the issue of sexist exploitation, I would like to direct focus to the “No More Miss America” manifesto by the New York Radical Women. In this 1968 manifesto, the Miss America Pageant is examined with a critical eye. The New York Radical Women hold that pageant contestants are like livestock at a county fair “where the nervous animals are judged for teeth, fleece, etc., and where the best ‘Specimen’ gets the blue ribbon” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 33). In a “win-or-you’re worthless” disaster, there is “only one winner to be ‘used’ and forty-nine losers who are ‘useless’” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 33). These women, according to the New York Radical Women, are used to flaunt pageant sponsors and represent the “unstained patriotic American womanhood our boys are fighting for” when the Miss America winner tours the troops (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 33).

By and large, I agree with the New York Radical Women. It is not just the pageants that favor a particular female archetype but the media in general. Most of the stars of today could easily fit into the category of “sexy and wholesome, delicate but able to cope, [and] demure yet titillatingly bitchy” that the New York Radical Women described (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 33). When women do not match that mold, they often get discarded as trashy or boring. Much like Miss America, the mass media also loves to cash in on the “win-or-you’re-worthless” mentality by constantly pitting starlets and musicians against each other. The media often acts as though there can only be a one successful female artist at a time and loves to turn any hint of drama into a feud (e.g., Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj).

Examples of oppression are everywhere in our culture. Anna Quidlen makes this clear in her article “Still Needing the F Word.” From women at Duke who are pressured to exhibit “effortless perfection” and eschew displays of intelligence to fit in with their male colleagues to faculty women in the sciences at Princeton who reported lower job satisfaction and less of a sense of belonging compared to their male comrades, it is clear true equality is yet to be grasped. As Quidlen puts it, “Women have won the right to do just as much as men do. They just haven’t won the right to do as little as men do” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 46). I have seen this in my own life where female STEM students often push themselves to do more through exams and extracurricular activities so they can be as respected as their male compatriots.

In her article, bell hooks commented that “feminist politics is losing momentum because feminist movement has lost clear definitions” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, p. 39). While the dearth of a clear definition is a stumbling block for third wave feminism, I do believe that so far 2015 has been a big year for awareness. Does awareness alone fix anything? Sadly, no. Awareness itself only makes us painfully conscious of the sexist culture we live in; however, awareness paired with action helps keep the conversation going. As feminists inspire more women (and men) to think actively about these issues and the sexism behind them, there is hope for change.


Shaw, S. & Lee, J. (2015). Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings. New York: McGraw Hill.



Women’s Employment – Inequality Still Exists

business woman

By Kyrstin Dittenhafer-Swartz, WLMP Peer Mentor 

It’s no big secret that although women have gained the right to work, they have still not gained equal work. In “The Triumph of the Working Mother,” Stephanie Coontz talks about how although women working has proven to be extremely beneficial overall, our society is behind other advanced societies in implementing benefits such as maternity leave – a benefit almost solely for women (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 515-17). Although, according to Coontz, women’s employment has lowered the divorce rates, improved the overall well-being of women, and increased the amount of time both parents spend with children, we still do not provide adequate maternity and family leave or strict rules on daycare centers – especially compared to Britain and Norway (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 515-17).

Unfortunately, these shortfalls of our society have the potential to undo all of the good that women’s employment has done. Momo Chang, in “Color Me Nontoxic,” talks about how health and safety laws have not been imposed on a mainly female industry – nail salons (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 522-3). According to Chang, 96 percent of manicurists are women (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 523). I believe it would probably be safe to assume that the remaining four percent of manicurists are mostly perceived to be gay – whether they are or not – as they work in a profession that is gendered female. The lack of health and safety laws imposed on this profession is outrageously low, and therefore, unsurprisingly, harms the workers. Not to mention, although the amount of exposure is not as much for customers, the customers are mostly female for this industry, so they are exposed to some level of risk, as well.

I feel we have to wonder why these inequalities of maternity leave and safety in women’s employment exist. Please note that there is also a plethora of other inequalities in women’s employment that I am not mentioning here for the purpose of this blog post. I believe these inequalities exist because of the concept of the good ol’ boys clubs that are effectively described in “Power Plays: Six Ways the Male Corporate Elite Keeps Women Out” by Martha Burk (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 525-8). According to Burk, “It’s about living in a culture that links masculinity to power, dominance and control” (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 528). Unfortunately, if these things are linked to masculinity and maternity leave and nail salon technicians are linked to femininity, then maternity leave and nail salon technicians cannot be linked to power, dominance, and control. It is this dichotomous thinking of one group (femininity or masculinity) only being able to hold the power, dominance, and control that creates the problems we have in today’s society.

According to Martha Burk in “Power Plays: Six Ways the Male Corporate Elite Keeps Women Out,” “when groups achieve a certain level of power and influence, sometimes their original purpose is subverted in favor or holding on to the status and the exclusivity that the group has achieved” (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 526). This is exactly what is happening with society when it comes to concepts like nail salon safety and maternity leave. In fact, this concept is so engrained that it is not only being perpetuated by men, but also by women. I’m sure we’ve all run into women who have expressed disdain for feminism – I know I have. Unfortunately, because of all of this we do not have movement such as adequate maternity leave or a push for safety in professions like nail technicians. Quite frankly, it is because the male dominated society does not care – because it does not affect them. Also, by not caring, they are protecting their control, dominance, and power.

“Will Marriage Equality Lead to Equal Sharing of Housework?” by Terrance Heath is a great example of the dichotomous thinking I mentioned earlier (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 500-3). Heath points out that the reason (one of) marriage equality is opposed is because a domestic partnership between two males would destroy the idea of dichotomous thinking – because one male would effectively have to become inferior by taking on the position of the woman (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 500-3). If this degrading of one male partner does not happen – as Heath has illustrated that it did not in his relationship – the dichotomous thinking model is then basically blown to smithereens (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 500-3). I had actually not thought of the opposition to marriage equality in this way, but now that I have read this point of view it makes a lot of sense and I concur.

Work Cited

Shaw, S. & Lee, J. (2015). Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings. New York: McGraw Hill.


Feminism and the Media


By Cassidy Turner, WLMP Cohort Member 

The media, whether it be social, television, film, music/music videos, print, literature, or art, is one of the cornerstones of culture in American society. Nearly everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account, Netflix has become a way of life, news corporations like NBC and CNN keep us up to date with constant streams of information, and while MTV doesn’t play music anymore, the MTV Video Music Awards are one of the most buzzed-about events of the year, especially in younger generations. The media is literally everywhere, and it’s especially prominent in the digital age. As such, it heavily influences our culture and beliefs, often without us even realizing it. This can be dangerous, especially when the subliminal – or outright – messages we receive through the media are harmful towards oppressed groups in society.

A big problem with media in the U.S. is that it often portrays events through the eyes of white, cisgender, heterosexual men. This structuring of media around the most privileged group in society is called the male gaze. The male gaze is dangerous because it presents the viewpoint of the white, cisgender, heterosexual man as the viewpoint that is the most valid and correct (Shaw & Lee, 2012). This allows for casual misogyny, racism, homophobia, and transphobia to be displayed as good or correct views to have. For obvious reasons, this is damaging. The male gaze also makes media less accessible to marginalized groups in society, meaning that truly talented individuals are often not given a chance to showcase their talents because of their minority status.

In her essay Thinking About Shakespeare’s Sister, Virginia Woolf discusses the various ways in which media is made inaccessible to women, especially women in the time of Shakespeare. Woolf argues that if Shakespeare had had a sister, equally as talented as he was but unable to express her abilities because of the nature of the times, she would have killed herself. The oppression of her creative abilities would have been so strong and so prominent that she would be lead to this decision. This sad fate, Woolf argues, would have been true of “any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century” (Woolf, 1929). I think the argument could be made that the awful effects of the oppression of creative talents in women is true for women born long after the sixteenth century, given that Woolf herself committed suicide twelve years after she wrote this piece.

Social media is the newest form of media, and I would argue that it is one of the most influential. Tom Watson discusses the power of social media in Rush Limbaugh and the New Networked Feminism. When Limbaugh called a Georgetown University student a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she addressed Congress about the high cost of contraceptives, he was met with a massive feminist response. Through social media, word spread about Limbaugh’s actions at incredible speeds. Feminists were outraged, as they rightly should have been, and their campaign against Limbaugh led to him losing the support of 2 radio stations and 12 advertisers (Watson, 2012). This isn’t the first instance of feminist social media campaigns causing real change, and it certainty wasn’t the last. As social media becomes more accessible and more and more people begin to use it, it gains real potential as a tool of political change.

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has had a long, successful career as an R&B artist, making her possibly one of the most influential music stars of our time. Fortunately, Beyoncé uses her influence for good, as Sophie Weiner discusses in Beyoncé: Feminist Icon? The reading takes a look at eight of the most feminist acts Beyoncé has done during her career. From her songs such as Run The World (Girls), Survivor, and Telephone, to her performances and interviews, many of Beyoncé’s actions are pro-feminism (Weiner, 2013). One of Beyoncé biggest feminist actions, in my opinion, that the article doesn’t mention is her performance at the 2014 VMAs of songs from her most recent album, including the anthem ***Flawless. The most remarkable part of this performance was whenever the word FEMINIST took the screen with Beyoncé standing right in front of it, proclaiming her stance loudly and proudly.

Media has a heavy influence on society, whether that influence is for the better or for the worse. It is because of media that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ song Blurred Lines was the biggest Top 40 hit of 2013, even though it was literally about rape. The messages portrayed in Blurred Lines aren’t even subliminal. The lyrics are vulgar and explicit with the line “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” and the repeated “I know you want it”, and the music video just as bad, if not worse. Still, Blurred Lines flew to the top of the charts and stayed there. It was nominated for countless awards, and Thicke and Williams won many of them, including the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Duo or Group. The NAACP! When rape and sexual assault is made so commonplace and accepted in our society that you get the NAACP giving out awards for a song about it, you know you have a problem.

YzU4ZjViODczMiMvZHVkYVBXUGx2ODNteVpibHlZSUk5Zy1NN1hzPS8xMHgxMDo1MTEyeDMxMjgvODQweDUxMy9maWx0ZXJzOnF1YWxpdHkoNzApL2h0dHBzOi8vczMuYW1hem9uYXdzLmNvbS9wb2xpY3ltaWMtaW1hZ2VzLzUzMzVlNzU1NzE5NTA3MTA0NDI1NjkxN2QyN2E2NmYwNzRkNGE4ZmYzMzJkMDk4ZjcyNGJmOn the other hand, it is also because of media that countless feminist social media campaigns have been successful. Social media has become something of a news source, one that covers events that the mainstream media refuses to. One prominent example of this is Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster in Texas. When Davis took to the Senate floor to filibuster an incredibly restrictive anti-abortion bill put forth by GOP senators, not a single major news outlet covered it. In fact, it wasn’t until around hour 9 of her filibuster that most people other than Texas feminists caught word of it, and this only happened because of pro-Davis social media campaigns taking place on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. The hashtag #StandWithWendy soared to the top of the trending topics on twitter, and nearly 200,000 people tuned into a livestream of the filibuster, myself among them. Without the social media campaign to bring awareness to this subject, the various injustices the GOP made that night (including taking a vote after midnight) would have likely occurred without much resistance from the public.

Media is not a perfect thing, and it never will be. However, I do believe that one day we can turn it into a more positive force than ever before. Feminism is slowly, slowly chipping away at the male gaze and its hold on media. Feminists and other social justice activists are taking to social media to spread awareness, educate, rally, and raise funds. Beyoncé is promoting feminism through her music, and even going as far as to loudly and proudly declare herself a feminist on the MTV Video Music Awards; her actions are reaching an audience of younger girls that may have never heard of feminism before, and painting the movement in a positive, empowering light. With continued actions, campaigns, and education like this through media, feminism has an almost endless amount of possibilities to change the world.


Shaw, S., & Lee, J. (2012). Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

Watson, T. (2012). Rush Limbaugh and the New Networked Feminsim. In Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Weiner, S. (2012). Beyoncé: Feminist Icon?. In Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Woolf, V. (1929). Thinking About Shakespeare’s Sister. In Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Book Review – Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

Lean In Book 3D_HRes


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

By WLMP Cohort Member, Megan DeArmit.  Megan originally wrote this post for her summer internship with Congressional Candidate, Steve Larchuk.   


As an eighteen year old standing at the start of my adult life, I’ve been confronted with the daunting prospect of my career: what I want to do, how high I want to dream, and how I want to get there. Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book offers insight on women and leadership. As current COO of Facebook and a former Google executive, she can speak with some authority on the topic.

Sandberg uses a variety of examples from her own experience, as well as the experiences of friends and colleagues, to highlight women and our timidity to contribute to discussions, our insecurity in our leadership ability, and the necessary steps we must take to be successful and fulfilled in all aspects of our lives.

Throughout the first half of the book, Sandberg encourages women to “sit at the table” and engage with colleagues despite lower level positions. She reminds us that men would have no reservations in offering their opinions no matter their position, so why are we hesitant to offer ours? Sandberg also communicates that the road to success is “not a ladder, but a jungle gym;” there is more than one path to take when looking for promotions and more responsibility within any career. She notes that sometimes taking “two steps back” while seizing a new opportunity is not the end of the world. It can actually have the opposite effect.

While women have proven to be just as competent as their male peers, if not more, they are still not given the same amount of credit or opportunity. Men are considered assertive and confident when they succeed in the workplace, but women are considered “bossy” and “cold-hearted.” This subtle, yet also incredibly blatant, sexism is extremely disheartening for women who are more than capable of directing and leading.

Sandberg suggests that most of women’s resistance in aiming for leadership positions is the societal stigma of a working mother and the fact that women statistically tend to do more of the work when it comes to parenting and keeping a home. She uses several co-workers and team members as examples, saying that a lot of them were hesitant to accept new job opportunities because of the potential impact on their families. Not only does this occur with women who are already mothers or about to be, but also with women who are not even married yet. They are attached to and affected by the cultural idea that women cannot be good mothers and good leaders. Sandberg argues that this is why only 4.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.

This leadership ambition gap can also be paired with the fact that a man is rarely, if ever, confronted with the idea of not being a “good dad” because he also has a career. Sandberg notes that a marriage is a partnership and more women would be willing to take higher positions if their partners contributed more in parenting. She acknowledges that a lot of men do this already, but hopes to encourage the ones that don’t. Sandberg insists that maternity and paternity leaves should be longer, paid, and of equal time to encourage both family and career life. It would likely encourage more women to seek career advancement, rather than run from it to protect their desire to be “better parents.”

Sandberg has a unique ability to inspire women to achieve their own goals – whether they want just a career, just a family, or both – while also reminding men of their essential role in pushing women to their fullest potential.

A better Congress will incorporate these maternal and paternal needs into health care reform as a way to encourage both women and men to aim as high as they want without worrying about the impact on their families.

Interested in writing for WLMP’s blog?  Contact fostere@rmu.edu

WLMP Welcomes RMU’s 8th President


The Robert Morris University Board of Trustees has appointed Dr. Christopher Howard as RMU’s next president – and WLMP member, Delaney Hassell, got the first interview!  We look forward to welcoming Dr. Howard into the RMU community in February.  Read Delaney’s article in The Sentry

WLMP Orientation 2015

The Women’s Leadership & Mentorship Program has had a great start to the 2015-2016 year!  We welcomed a new class of freshman cohort members, peer mentors and faculty/staff mentors at our orientation program on August 16th.  Our total roster now includes 92 students and 43 faculty and staff mentors representing schools and departments across campus.

Orientation also featured an engaging panel discussion, “Women & Work-Life Balance.”  Our distinguished panelists included: Sarah Burns (Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, Inc.); Erin Isler (PNC Debt Capital Markets); Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew (University Hospitals of Cleveland and RMU Trustee); Tory Parrish (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review); Monda Williams (Allegheny County Department of Human Services).

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WLMP Orientation Panel “Work-Life Balance”

To continue this discussion and offer more tips, panelist Monda Williams shared her book recommendations:

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” by Travis BradBerry & Jean Greaves
“Strengths Finder 2.0,” by Tom Rath
“Play to Your Strengths: Stacking the Deck to Achieve Spectacular Results for Yourself and Others,” by Andrea Sigetich & Carol Leavitt, MBA
“Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,” by Brene’ Brown, Ph.D, LMSW
“The Power of NOW: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” by Eckhart Tolle
“Change Your Thinking Change Your Life,” by Brian Tracy
“Time To Think, Listening to Ignite the Human Mind,” by Nancy Kline
“18 Minutes, Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done,” by Peter Bregman

After lunch, the Rolling Cones ice cream truck stopped by to to relieve us on a very hot summer day.

We’d also like to thank President David Jamison who joined us to give opening remarks and hang out in our photo booth!

Visit our Flickr album for more photos from Orientation.