Phenomenal Women Awards and Fundraiser honors local women for community activism

Mandi Gosling

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The CSUN Department of Gender and Women’s Studies held their Ninth Biennial Phenomenal Woman Awards reception and fundraiser Saturday at the USU Grand Salon. The six recipients included local KCET news journalist Val Zevala among the other prominent female figures awarded. Photo Credit: Katie Grayot / Staff Photographer

As CSUN professor Kathleen Young presented a 2010 Phenomenal Woman award to her mentor, Roberta Madison, she compared the achievements of the evening’s honorees to another phenomenal woman.

“Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire could do, but she did it backwards and in high heels,” Young said to the audience at the Grand Salon in the University Student Union on Saturday, Oct. 23.

The CSUN Gender and Women’s Studies Department Ninth Biennial Phenomenal Women Awards celebrated six Los Angeles-based women who have made remarkable contributions in their professional fields.

The awardees included Val Zavala, anchor and reporter for KCET, Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority, Dr. Andrea Smith, co-founder of national feminist activist organization “Incite! Women of Color Against Violence,” artist Synthia SAINT JAMES, LGBT community organizer Lisa Powell and Dr. Roberta Madison, CSUN professor emeritus from the Department of Health Sciences.

The women are nominated by faculty in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department and then voted on by a committee.

Dr. Sheena Malhotra, chair of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department said the women selected represent a variety of different fields and are remarkable examples of how community activism can inspire change in the world.

“Being extraordinary in their own rights, they’ve each found ways to give back to our communities, to contribute to a more socially just world and to help us envision a more equitable future, just by broadening the possibilities of our imagination,” Malhotra said.

Dr. Elizabeth Say, Dean of the College of Humanities, said the event, which raises between $10,000 and $15,000, aims to build community relations, draw awareness to the work of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department and raise money for future department events.

“So often the women who do all kinds of great work in the community are unnoticed, unrecognized, and unrewarded,” Say said.  “So we started doing this event to recognize women and to build community, and in the process to raise a little money to support speakers and to support the Women’s Center and things like that.”

Say said she was impressed with how many CSUN student volunteers came to help at the event.

CSUN student Gaby Moretta, 28, said she was excited to see Smith awarded at the event because she had studied one of her articles for a term paper she wrote last year.

Moretta said her involvement in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department has opened her eyes to people and ideas she never would have otherwise seen.

“You don’t hear about these kinds of things outside the scholastic network,”said the gender and women studies major.   “When I wasn’t going to school I didn’t know about these kind of events. Coming here and being involved at CSUN(…) I just feel like I’m being exposed to so much more and it inspires you to continue.  As hard as things may get and as difficult as things may be these women have overcome so much and they are still standing. They serve as great role models for us.”

Smith, who has championed civil rights for women of color, used the opportunity of being awarded to emphasize the power of individuals uniting for a cause.

“I see this award as not being particularly for me because I’m not particularly phenomenal,” Smith said. “What we need is not so much phenomenal people, but regular, ordinary people saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to talk with my neighbors and commit to making the world a difference place(…)It’s through mass movements, not individuals, that actually make change and we all have an equally important part in making global transformation a reality.”