University, local women share empowering college experiences

Published by adviser, Author: Stehpanie Cheek - Rocket Contributor, Date: September 6, 2012

As women in the United States continue to fight for total equality in society, younger women at SRU turned to the guidance of older women for “A Night of Story Telling” in the Robert M. Smith Student Center Tuesday evening.

A panel of six women, all part of the Slippery Rock community, shared their personal stories and insight for “A Night of Storytelling: Tales of College Women and the Quest for Confidence.”
The panel consisted of SRU’s new president, Dr. Cheryl Norton, English professor Dr. Myra Balok, director of multicultural development Corinne Gibson, Lauren Larkin, part of the Slippery Rock community, assistant professor in academic services Dr. Jessamine Montero Michaels and associate exercise and rehabilitative science professor Dr. Kimberly Smith. Along with the six speakers, two emcees, parks and recreation and environmental education professor Dr. Colleen Cooke and Heather Strong, a SRU graduate student, helped move the event along with introductions of each of the speakers.

The stories ranged from heartfelt and emotional to awkward and funny, but they all had a meaning and lesson that the audience can take with them outside of the Student Center and throughout their lives. In the end, the goal was to make an impact on the students, but the panelists also left the interactive seminar with a new way of seeing those around them.

Two stories that brought out the tears and laughter in everyone were those from Dr. Balok and Dr. Smith. Each told different stories, but both with an important message to women – the importance of discovering one’s own identity and passion in life.

Dr. Balok said she entered college academically prepared, but not socially and emotionally ready for the college experience. Balok said she was involved in college, was a part of the school council and participated in sports, but it was not until she entered a poetry class her freshman year that she met “Bob.”

This was her first serious relationship, and it soon became unhealthy when he began wanting to be able to control her and her time. After college, seven years of marriage, and two small children, she said her relationship with her then husband took a turn for the worse.

“I made ‘Bob’ my God,” Balok said.

According to Balok, after she left “Bob,” a close friend told her, “There is someone who thinks you are beautiful, loves you, cares about you, and values you.” She said it was after hearing this one sentence when her life changed completely, and that from that moment on she allowed Jesus Christ into her life.

Balok said the road to recovery was by no means easy and that she still has moments of self-doubt to this day, but she learned how to move on with her life.

“[Moving on with your life] is a journey, but when you are grounded you have something to go back to,” she said. “I would urge [younger women] if you don’t have a relationship with God, seek one first and allow God to grow them up to be women that they want to be.”

The college experience, itself, for Dr. Kimberly Smith was somewhat of a struggle, but it wasn’t until after college that she said she began to face major struggle in her life.

Smith said she attended SRU in 1999, struggling with many of the same situations that most college students face, such as the “freshmen 15” looming over her head, and decided to do something about it. During the time of Lent, instead of giving something up that she loved, she said she decided to add something that was good for her but not exactly enjoyable – running. Throughout Lent and for years after, running became a passion and gave her time to focus on self-reflection, improving her physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

She said as she got older, she realized that running was causing some slight pain, and soon found out that she had hip dysplasia, mild scoliosis and that her pelvis was twisted. These problems kept her from running on a regular basis, but while going through surgeries and physical therapy to improve her health medically, she said she fell deeper in love with her passion of running, and was thankful when she could finally put on her running shoes again for her celebratory triathlon.

Smith said she wanted students to be inspired by her story and take a personal lesson from her experience.

“Be passionate about what you do, take a risk, play an active role in your own life, and exercise is medicine,” Smith said.

While she was not part of the panel of speakers, Dr. Colleen Cooke served as the role of emcee and introduced the speakers. Cooke said she values the idea that everyone has a story to tell, and that she was glad SRU was able to create a safe environment for women to tell their stories openly and honestly.

Cooke said the goal of the event and what most of the speakers wanted to get across to female students was that they would always have someone there for them, willing to listen.

“Young women are being victimized, and we need to all listen to each other,” she said.


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