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WIPP Photography Exhibit Explores Advancement and Empowerment of Women

Guest speaker and Ithaca College Professor Cynthia Henderson (fourth from right) poses with WIPP advisor Laurie Miller (far left) and the WIPP officers (l to r): Aikeda Aierken, Sofia Olofsson, Liza von Grafenstein, Danielle Mearis, Stephanie Coker, and F

By Lisa Jervey Lennox
Assistant Director for External Relations

CIPA’s Women in Public Policy (WIPP) organization launched a “Global Women Exhibit” Sept. 21 at Cornell’s MVR Gallery. The exhibit featured a curated collection of photographs visualizing both mastered and ongoing challenges of women across the globe.

“Through depictions of women in relation to economic, social, political, spatial, and historical issues of concern, the exhibit was intended to encourage discussion of women’s advancement and empowerment,” says WIPP President Danielle Mearis.  “We were very proud to present the work of 12 student contributors as commentary on the status of women.”

“The exhibit offered a wide-range of perspectives on women from around the globe. The photos were just stunning,” said Elizabeth Sweitzer ’18.First year CIPA student Mohammad Zohair Javed submitted three images from Pakistan, focused on women’s employment. “Women Social Enterprise (WSE) employs more than 90 young women, mainly from poor and marginalized families, in seven technical trades incl  “The unveiling invoked particularly interesting conversations about the subjects of the photos. I was very impressed by the international experiences and creative genius of my classmates!"


Mearis asked gallery visitors to consider each photograph through the context of their own experiences and beliefs.  She further challenged them to adopt the lens of the photographer and of the individuals pictured, as they pondered the subject of women’s advancement and empowerment.

Immediately prior to the exhibit opening, WIPP hosted a lecture by Cynthia Henderson, associate professor of Theater Arts at Ithaca College. “The WIPP committee wanted to highlight the connection between art, activism, and policy,” said Mearis. “Cynthia was able to illustrate that relationship through her own experiences.”

A director and professional actor, Henderson is the founder of Performing Arts for Social Change, which is now a strategic initiative of Cornell’s Center for Transformative Action. Her inspiration to found this nonprofit was derived from her experience in the 1980s in Harlem where she created monologues with youth, many of them gang members, to give them an opportunity to be heard outside of violent action.

“You need to learn to listen to effect social change in the world,” Henderson said in her remarks.  “Start by listening to the environment, then listen to people in the environment.  How do they act? What do they say? Only then can you start to discover what they need.”  When using art for activism, Henderson it is always important to question your own intention, as that keeps you honest about what you are doing and allows you to listen.

Henderson has used theater to help empower people to express themselves and stage their stories not only in the US but also all around the world. Recently, Cynthia Henderson traveled to Cameroon as a Fulbright Specialist to facilitate a workshop about how attacks by the Boko Haram effect the people of Cameroon.

“Building Mutual Trust in Berada, India” is the title of the entry by Jess Sokolow ’17. “Women learn to trust each other by way of ‘trust falls’ at a gender training for participants of self-help groups in the remote village of Berada in West Bengal, IndThis lecture and exhibit were sponsored by the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and the Cornell Women's Resource Center.

Women in Public Policy (WIPP) is a graduate student organization based at CIPA, but its membership and events are open to the entire Cornell graduate community.  WIPP facilitates the professional integration of women into public policy roles. It aims to generate awareness and understanding about economic, social, political, spatial, and historical issues - in relation to gender and its intersections - in public affairs and policy.

Photos by Cornell University Photography