Highlighting MN women and their impacts

Hamline’s FUSION kicked off the Social Justice Symposium week with a workshop discussing historic impacts affecting social justice and change made by Minnesota women.

Anika Besst, News Editor

Hamline’s Hedgeman center kicked off the 2022 Social Justice Symposium with Hamline’s FUSION organization workshop “Lesson Learned: a discussion about what we can learn from women who shaped Minnesota & changed history.” 

This event highlighted the lives of Minnesota women who fought for social change and changed history. 

“A lot of times when we learn about history, we learn about important male figureheads, particularly like white male figureheads. And then history that talks about minorities, we learn a lot about the men who pushed for social progress,” FUSION Co-president Elizabeth Liew said. “A lot of times a lot of those efforts were made by women who are marginalized in so many ways, but we don’t learn about them. And we don’t highlight the struggles that they faced and the issues that they push for. And also when we’re not highlighting them, we’re not providing role models for young women of color. And so we just wanted to provide a space for that today. “ 

FUSION is a space that offers a network and support for multicultural students, as well as education about the unique impacts multiracial students experience. FUSION has worked to become a resource for the Hamline community to examine issues of race, identity and community.

At this event, each FUSION member selected a woman from Minnesota that they admired and shared about their life and impacts. 

First off, FUSION Treasurer Lucas Paschal kicked off the list with Julia Bullard Nelson. 

Nelson graduated from Hamline around 1862, and later went to Texas to teach Freedmen for almost 20 years. She was an active member in the Minnesota Women’s Christian Temperance Union and a founding member, and eventual president, of the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association. 

“[She was a] very genuine person, she really cared about the social causes she was involved with,” Paschal said. “When you start looking at a lot of activists throughout history, they are very strong on one thing, but then on other subjects that will be a little bit touchy, like you see someone fight for independence for people, but be very racist towards others.”

Nelson gave speeches for this group and once said, which Paschal highlighted, “ If I am capable of preparing citizens, I am capable of possessing the rights of a citizen myself. I ask you to remove the barriers which restrain women from equal opportunities and privileges with men.”

Next was Liew who spoke about Ruth Tanbara.

Tanbara and her husband were the first Japanese Americans to live in St. Paul after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s executive order 9066 that happened during the 1940s, had evacuated all people deemed a threat to U.S. national security from the West Coast into other places like internment camps and different states. 

Tanbara and her husband worked on repealing this law after the executive order, as well as the law that said Asian Americans could not become United States citizens. She worked outside of her race and ethnicity 

“I think, especially when we look at history and social movements and civil rights movements There’s a really big lack of Asian women being highlighted and so I just wanted to make sure that there’s a space for that while we’re here,” Liew said. “She was a really big leader in the Japanese American community because anti-Japanese discrimination and anti-Asian discrimination in Minnesota is like super, super prevalent at this time. [It was] fueled by the ongoing war, so for her to be a public figure was just really significant.” 

Next was FUSION Secretary Elaina Drake, who spoke about Katie McWatt.

McWatt was instrumental to work in St. Paul related to the Black community and fighting against the discrimination they faced within housing and education. She was also the coordinator of Central High School’s Minority Education Program in St. Paul for 17 years and president of the St. Paul NAACP. 

“I think it’s so important to highlight that the work that she was doing within Minnesota was about like housing discrimination [and] education because that’s a huge part of the systemic racism that’s particularly in Minnesota that gets so overlooked, like the impact that redlining has,” Drake said. “It’s important to highlight that she was a big pioneer in moving past that and without her, it could have been a lot worse than it was… She was a steadfast voice for the communities.” 

They also discussed Anna Arnold Hedgeman who is the namesake of Hamline’s Hedgeman Center. 

Hedgeman was also a Hamline alumnus, as well as an educator, politician and activist who committed her life to social justice. She pioneered the fight for fair employment and was part of the team that organized the March on Washington where she fought to have a woman speak at the March. She also went on to create the National Organization of Women. 

Liew also added how important it is to recognize the challenges and lack of resources and support women face when fighting for social change, and how this is affected intersectionally. 

“I think we know being a woman of color puts you under like twice as much scrutiny as being a man. And so I’m always just inspired when I see women who are major changemakers, because I know…that’s a big thing to put on your shoulders,” Liew said. “When we look at history, it is women who are being changemakers. And they are there whether or not we’re being taught them in our history class. The relevance is just to remember that we didn’t get here today, just because we’ve decided to be better or to progress, especially because we do have so much progress that needs to be made, but that people have worked hard for us to get here. And it’s women who are often overlooked, who are doing a lot of that work.“