Lexington, Virginia • March 26, 2010
A student-run leadership group at Washington and Lee University sponsored the third annual Love Your Body Week at W&L from March 15-19. The group, Knowledge Empowering Women Leaders (KEWL), works on raising awareness about women's issues such as body image, self-esteem, eating disorders, sexual assault and relationships. KEWL combines course work in women's and gender studies with programming outside the classroom.
This year's Love Your Body Week had a particular focus. "We decided to highlight great things that women are doing in order to celebrate the success and strength of women at Washington and Lee," said Catherine Kruse, a junior who serves as president of KEWL. "By doing this, we hope to increase confidence and solidarity to allow women to be themselves and acknowledge their individual beauty."
During the week, student-made posters displayed throughout campus highlighted accomplishments and offered encouragement. For example, one of the posters encouraged women to run for leadership positions on the two student-government organizations, the Executive Council (EC) and the Student Judicial Committee (SJC), on which no women currently serve. Another poster celebrated the recent victory of the W&L women's basketball team, its first conference championship ever. Yet another praised the 22 undergraduate female inductees to the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society in March.
In addition to the posters, KEWL ran the Post Secret Campaign during Love Your Body Week. Designed to encourage and empower students by allowing them to share and read confidential thoughts in an anonymous way, Post Secret asked any member of the campus community who so wished to write a brief note and drop it in a box. KEWL then displayed the notecards in the University's Elrod Commons. The cards featured such personal topics as religion and body image, questions and declarations of sexuality, worries about troubled friends, and experiences with sexual assault and drug and alcohol abuse.
"Many students struggle with telling others about their insecurities and choose to share a Post Secret because they do not know whom to turn to for support," said Kruse. "One of the most powerful attributes about the Post Secrets is that many people can relate to the secrets, and it makes them feel better to know that they are not alone."
The leaders of KEWL hope that their efforts reach fellow students who are struggling with body image, self-esteem, eating disorders, sexual assault and relationship difficulties. They also hope that the campaign will have a positive influence on the campus community.
Dr. Christy Barongan, a clinical psychologist in W&L's Student Health Department, believes that the campaign "helped people voice the things that no one says out loud. When people share their vulnerabilities, it helps others accept their own difficulties."
KEWL is not alone at W&L in the quest for awareness of women's issues, and the University provides many resources for students. The Office of Health Promotion offers counseling on healthy habits and choices. The Student Health Center and the Counseling Center provide professional medical advice to those in need. Lifestyle Information for Everyone (LIFE), a student-run organization, helps students make wise choices about their health and safety. Programs called CAIR (Confidential and Impartial Resolution Resources) and DPA (Discrimination Policy Advisers) have staff and faculty members willing to help students with issues of sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment.
"I feel confident on a campus knowing that there are a lot more women who support the same causes and cares that I do," said Kruse. "I think that other women feel better knowing that there are groups who care about them, too."