“600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda”
an ardent feminist, but she loves men (she’s been happily married for ten years).
She’s the Assistant Director for the UIC Center for Research on Women and Gender and the Director of Women in Science and Engineering Program, but she’s also an intensely creative-type and expresses herself beautifully as a writer (more on that in a minute).
She’s a dedicated activist for women’s reproductive rights, serving as the co-chair for the Chicago Abortion Fund, and is dedicated to helping women and girls advocate for the right to their own choices in Chicago and around the country, but she respects life wholly (her five-year-old daughter is living proof).
Imagine my surprise when I finally got a chance to speak to this woman – who her nominators happily reported has blogged for such outlets as Bitch, Ms., Alternet, Kenneth Cole's AWEARNESS blog, Girl w/Pen and WIMN's Voices – and I met, not a hard-core zealot, but a smart, sweet 34-year-old woman of Mexican descent who lives and dies for the Chicago Cubs.
“My basic difference from others is I inherently trust women to make their own best decisions for themselves and their own families based on what is inherent in their own beliefs,” Arreloa told me, “whether that comes from their physician or a place in their heart, or from their spiritual beliefs. I don’t tell women what to do or make those choices for them.”
“A zealot is a turnoff in any conversation because most people are in that middle place, rather than firmly on either side,” Arreola explained. “I try to talk to people by bringing in facts, having personal stories, and always coming to a conversation knowing the other person might agree with me on something but not on other things.”
Rarely does one run into such clear-headed thinking when the pro-life/pro-choice issue is involved, but I don’t want to harp on that because there’s so much more to Veronica.
“My vision is a world, a city, where young girls can turn on the TV, flip through a newspaper/magazine, and read online news anytime and see themselves commenting on policy, celebrating an invention or discovery,” she says. “I want them to look around their neighborhood and always see women as leaders working to make the community a better place to live and work.”
Arreola lives that vision everyday through her work as the Assistant Director for the UIC Center for Research on Women and Gender and the Director of Women in Science and Engineering Program where she helps women navigate professional fields that are male-dominated.
“The number of women in science and engineering ranges between a majority in biology to less than 20% in computer science. The numbers are even worse for Latinas,” she said. “And despite the fact that its 2009, there is still plenty of harassment in the classroom, whether it’s a professor making joke or allowing a male student to horse around, making the classroom a hostile environment. There’s still a real need to go back to ‘sexual harassment 101’ to figure out how to treat your fellow classmates.”
“Then there are the other aspects,” Arreolla shared, “My women students are starting to ask questions like ‘when do I have kids?’ and basing career options on these issues. That answer depends on who you ask. Plus women have different challenges; there’s truth to the ‘Supergirl Myth,’ they get a ‘B’ they think they’re not prepared to be scientists. I get to tell them, ‘It’s OK, we get a ‘B’ we move on, and everything’s going to be alright.”
And let’s not forget Veronica the blogger, who fills her personal blog Viva la Feminista.com with explorations on the intersection of motherhood, feminism, and life as a Latina.
“I really do see so many of these issues are interconnected… it sounds so cheesy, ‘the empowerment of women,’ but seeing how much women can attain – whether it be education, jobs, a simple letter-to-the-editor –that’s what I work on, that’s what I try to do,” Arreola says.
“Helping women find that power is important. If I can help them by teaching and supporting them, that’s why I’m it.”
“Chicago Latino List 2009” was generously sponsored by the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Chicago White Sox, and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Restaurants. All nominees were independently nominated for this recognition; their rejection and/or selection to “Chicago Latino List 2009” was not, in any way, influenced by any disclosed or undisclosed personal or professional proximity to Esther J. Cepeda or to any sponsor of “Chicago Latino List 2009”.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact [email protected]