Students initiate conversation about women in the Body of Christ

By Giselle Gaytan

When Wheaton Biblical and Theological Studies professor Dr. George Kalantzis visited HNGR intern Camille Frey in Zambia last fall, both noticed a lack of women in leadership positions due to societal structures. This drew their attention to similar issues in Wheaton and the larger world, which led to the idea of having a “WHERE are the WOMEN?” conference to address related questions. The conference will take place Feb. 11-12.

Kalantzis put together a committee of female students who are working to plan and raise awareness for the event, which will take place in Barrows Auditorium and at the Billy Graham Center. The conference is being advertised on Instagram and Facebook through the “@womenofwheaton” account and the “Where Are the Women?” event page, respectively. Stories and facts campus to explore questions regarding the female body of Christ.

They have noticed a lack of representation for women in Wheaton leadership positions: 25 percent of current Board of Trustees members are female and 10 percent of student body presidents since 1921 have been comprised of women. The committee also hopes to examine what female Wheaton graduates are doing today. On a larger scale, the event will explore the role of women in churches, school and society. Five students make up the planning committee: two undergraduate and three graduate. Katherine Beech is a sophomore and Laura Howard is a senior. Katherine Goodwin, Hannah Hempstead and Eliza Stiles are all pursuing master’s degrees at Wheaton’s graduate school in the biblical and theological studies department. Frey and Kalantzis believe the problems they noticed in Zambia point to the “profound reality in our own evangelical context.”

After thinking through the “painful interactions” and experiences of women on campus, Kalantzis and Frey wondered how to “address the real lives of our community.” The initial idea, according to Kalantzis, started with wanting a space “where women’s voices could be heard without asking for permission or validation.”Howard explained that male biblical and theological studies (BITH) students witness the example of men as pastors or in other forms of ministry, but “…women may have never seen woman do anything vocationally with a BITH degree.” Howard continued, “I think this student noticed that if you’re a female biblical and theological studies student, you don’t really necessarily have examples of what you can do with this.”

This in mind, the conference will give vocational examples of female BITH alumni at Wheaton. As the five students continued their discussion, Howard said they wanted it to be a campus-wide conversation —they wanted the conversation to address what the female experience is like at Wheaton, the wider church and the world. The committee has been meeting every two to three weeks to plan as needed.

BITH professor Rev. Dr. Emily McGowin told the Record that she thinks “the conference is very important to Wheaton.” While McGowin is not involved in the event planning, she will be a moderator for a panel discussion. McGowin is “excited” to participate. “One of the things I find among young evangelical women is a deep desire for examples of women following their callings into the real world. I hope this conference will assist all of us in cultivating a broader imagination for what women can be and do,” McGowin said.

Beech thinks the conference is necessary on Wheaton’s campus because, according to her, in spite of a slight female majority on-campus, conversations and leadership remain male-dominated. She further explained the existence of a gender wage gap that is balanced against women.“There’s just so many of underlying assumptions to all of our actions that I think needs to change,” she said.

Nine women will speak at the conference, all of which attended undergraduate or graduate school at Wheaton. Their vocations range from pastors to professors to leaders in the medical field. Discussions titled “Women in Academia,” “Women in the Church,” “Women in Other Worlds of Work” and “Women in Leadership” are planned for the conference. Other topics of discussion include “DiscerningVocation,” “Christian Relationship in the Age of #Me-Too” and “Christianity and Expressions of Female Sexuality.”

Dr. Keith Johnson, associate professor of theology, has advised the conference’s student leaders but said that the conference is uniquely student-organized. He said the conference is necessary on-campus because“if you are a woman who is pursuing God’s call, it’s good to have role models and examples of what you might become. We don’t fulfill the Christian calling alone; we have a cloud of witnesses.” Johnson explained that this vocational example is especially necessary because of the low percentage of female faculty both in the BITH department and across Wheaton’s campus. To Johnson, the conference is similar to vocational networking efforts on campus because it helps connect women with examples of what they might become

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