| 03.17.2018

Winningly Virginia Wolf


It’s all about making a difference and expanding the feminist family, Kay Keskinen said.
Keskinen, retired University of Idaho database administrator/MIS manager for the management information systems of information technology services, echoes the same feminist and gender equity-based values as the namesake of the Women’s Center’s award, Virginia Wolf.
Wolf was a physical education professor at UI from 1964 to 1982. Within those 18 years Wolf was at the university, she played an important role in addressing gender inequities through her work with the UI Women’s Caucus, among other things.
Keskinen said the award is a continuation of Wolf’s legacy as a feminist and fighter for feminist justice.
The award came about from the work of four women at the university. Jeannie Harvey, director of the Women’s Center at the time, was planning a leave of absence beginning in 2003, but there was a student Harvey wanted to recognize before she went on leave.
“A young woman named Emily Sly was going to graduate from UI, and Jeannie wanted to recognize Emily for her work in starting the student organization called FLAME, Feminist-Led Activist Movement to Empower,” Keskinen said.
Another student named Lori VanBuggenum was also involved in the creation of FLAME.
“We considered the UI Outstanding Student Employee Award, but one never knows if one’s nominee would receive the award,” Keskinen said. “So I suggested that the Women’s Center create its own award, so Jeannie could decide the criteria and who would receive it.”
Keskinen’s idea was a hit with Harvey, but a name for the award was needed. Keskinen suggested to Harvey she name the award after Virginia — or Ginny — Wolf, former professor of physical education at the university.
The history of how the women on campus and in the community fought for rights to open a Women’s Center on campus is rooted deep within the Virginia Wolf Award. Then UI President Ernest Hartung appointed a committee and initiated a study on female students’ high attrition rate, the low number of female faculty members and reduced salaries.
Wolf was also the chair of the UI Women’s Caucus when the Conciliation Agreement — which detailed the steps the university would take in order to address the gender issues and imbalances on campus — was signed. The agreement promised the appointment of a director for a Women’s Center, a female physician in the Student Health Center, equal starting salaries for male and female employees and more.
“I called (Ginny) to ask her for permission to name the award after her,” Keskinen said. “She said yes, as long as the plaque with the names of the recipients hung in the Women’s Center — it does.”
With the new award created, all that was left was to present it to someone.
Keskinen and student Emily Sly were selected as the first two women to receive the newly created Virginia “Ginny” Wolf Award.
“I was very honored and surprised to be one of the first award recipients,” Keskinen said. “Emily (and Lori) had become my ‘feminist daughters,’ as Ginny Wolf was my ‘feminist mother,’ or ‘nurturer.'”
Director of the Women’s Center Heather Shea Gasser said the award is a way to acknowledge those who have made a difference for gender justice through activism.
“There are a lot of people who are put up for this award, because there are a lot of people doing great work on this campus and in the community,” Gasser said.
Despite the award’s history of being given to 28 women since 2002, there is no rule outlawing men or transsexual individuals. Two men have won the award — one in 2007 and another in 2011.
“The award is for anyone who is working toward issues of gender justice, and how that plays out in their lives,” Gasser said. “Gender issues affect women and men and trans folks — without men, who are participants in the (fight for gender justice), it wouldn’t be as successful.”
After Gasser had begun working in the Women’s Center, she pitched the idea to change the process selection for award winners. Rather than Women’s Center staff choosing the candidate, Gasser proposed that past award recipients do the selecting.
“When (the giving of the award) first began, it was just a little ceremony here in the Women’s Center,” Gasser said. “Now, we have a reception in the Commons,” and she said the celebration has increased in both grandeur and attendance.
Whereas the process and venue for the ceremony has changed, Gasser said the number of nominations for each category has stayed the same. Each category — student, faculty or staff and community member — receives between three and four votes every year.
“We’d really like to encourage the campus community to put in nominations, and think about faculty, staff and students and who should be receiving this award,” Gasser said. “We’re looking for people who have made a significant contribution through activism over a sustained period of time.”
Fish and wildlife sciences professor, assistant unit leader of research and 2011 recipient of the Virginia Wolf Award Christine Moffitt said she has admired the work the Women’s Center has done since she arrived on campus in 1980. Moffitt said the award is a great inspiration for women on campus. As the only female faculty member in the fishery program, Moffitt said there are more places in which the female population is underrepresented.
“The Women’s Center is in their 40th anniversary, and they’re a powerful force,” Moffit said. “It’s been a long history for me to help support what they’re doing.”
Moffitt said the award is encouraging equality for all minorities, not just women.
“(The injustices are) not resolved, and every step is important,” Moffitt said. “We have to be vigilant and not go to sleep, because we’re not there.”
With each one of the nine years the Virginia Wolf Award has been awarded, another community member is honored with having made a difference in gender justice, as well the campus environment for women and minorities.
As a personal friend of Wolf’s, Keskinen said the award is equivalent to a lifetime achievement award, as Wolf was continually dedicating her time and energy toward creating a center for women and better campus environment for female students.
“The UI Women’s Center has been an important part of my life,” Keskinen said. “I am honored to be a part of its ‘herstory’ as a recipient of the Virginia Wolf Award.”
The nomination period for the award will close at 5 p.m. March 1. Award recipients will be honored at a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. March 27 in the Horizon and Aurora Rooms on the fourth floor of the Idaho Commons.
Chloe Rambo can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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