AU hosts WGST Symposium

(Left to Right) Ruth McClelland-Nugent, Angela Bratton, Aspasia Luster, Sudha Ratan and Liana Babayan spoke on challenges of female empowerment and gender equality in developing countries. (Photo: Jamie Sapp)

By Jamie Sapp and Sequoia Sinclair | Editor-in-Chief & Staff Writer

March is known for plenty of things, but it is also recognized as national women’s history month.

The Women’s and Gender Studies program, along with the Women’s Studies Student Association, hosted its 5th biennial symposium at Augusta University in Allgood Hall on Mar. 18. The theme of the symposium was “Year of the Woman? Gender and Power in Action.”

Guest speakers presented topics from the female body in art and literature to trans women health issues throughout the symposium. There were four various sessions with eight panels and four films.  

At the beginning of the symposium, specifically in session one, a panel discussion was on “The Gender of Health: Trans Mental Health, the War on Drugs, and Chronic Pain.”

Thomas Toomey, an educational associate at the university, discussed his research evaluating the mental health concerns between females who identify as either lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Compared to the mental health needs of trans women, Toomey noted that the approach to treatment must be looked at through a different lens when treating trans women.

“Trans women are reporting higher rates of mental health concerns and disparities,” Toomey said. “There is not much focus on the treatment of trans women and it is important to educate yourself on the issues of trans women in order to reduce these disparities.”

Aspasia Luster, a senior library assistant at AU, then spoke about “Women and Chronic Pain.” In a survey answered via social media and friends, Luster discovered that women’s physical health needs are more likely to be dismissed as mental health issues.

“My participant wants their pain to be legitimized,” Luster disclosed. “They want to be taking seriously between doctors family and friends.”

The final speaker at this panel took a different turn but an important one nonetheless.

Mary Morrissey from the Simmons College discussed the relationship between being a female and the war on drugs.

“Many women are overcharged during drug related crimes in order to be coerced into taking a lesser plea,” Morrissey said. “Women typically have less power or connection in the drug traffick economy and are more vulnerable to longer times in prison. Their subordinate role is taken advantage of for prosecutors to exploit them.”

For the fourth session, there was one roundtable discussion that focused on the challenges of female empowerment and gender equality in developing countries.

The guest speakers from the roundtable discussion included Angela Bratton, Ruth McClelland-Nugent, Aspasia Luster, Sudha Ratan and Liana Babayan.

Sudha Ratan, a political science professor at AU, discussed her life experiences in India as a female and how older systems on rule of law conflict with customs and systems of justice for women in India.

“I think one of the interesting things for me is looking at the tension between systems where countries with rule of law are present but customary systems of justice continue to operate,” Ratan said. “… Women and older women in particular play a very important role in sanctioning systems and customs of justice. I don’t blame women for this. It’s a very interesting role that women play because they’re victims of the system, but at the same time, often times they are also sanctioning the system and be training younger women into accepting the system.”

Ratan posed the question, “What can people do to change and make people more accountable for the violations that they place with customary systems of justice?”

Liana Babayan, an assistant professor in the department of English & foreign languages, mentioned the structure of the honor system in Armenia and a few other countries.

“It is interesting how women’s bodies become the victims of the male honor system,” Babayan said.

Contact Jamie Sapp at Contact Sequoia Sinclair at

A version was published on March 30, 2017, in Volume 59, Issue 4 of The Bell Ringer newspaper. 



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