Crossing bridges: 11 women join international celebration

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Eleven women gathered at the South Campus grotto bridge Monday afternoon in honor of International Women’s Day. The event was one of many “Join Me at the Bridge” demonstrations sponsored by Women for Women International across the world. The peaceful gatherings are ways for men and women to bridge messages of hope to women in need.

Professors, faculty and other community members assembled together to reflect upon what women are dealing with internationally and how others can help them. Music professor Sarah Schmalenberger organized the event, calling it “Women: the Finest in the Arts.” She asked participants to “bridge to women we may never meet … and celebrate some women in their resilience.”

Participants joined each other in song and reflection. Each woman was asked to read statistics and stories about the treatment of women in different countries. The statistics allowed the participants to reflect upon their own fortune.

“Seventy-five percent of civilians killed in a war are women and children,” Schmalenberger said. “Seventy percent of people affected by poverty are women.”

The readings were followed by discussions of how one could reach to women in need. The group’s ideas included teaching people and raising awareness of treatment. English professor Amelia Kritzer talked about theater as an effective way to creatively present such issues.

“The arts are a way to move people,” she said.

All the women made prayer poles inspired by ones often seen in Tibet. Some women wrote prayers and tied them to the poles, while others decorated the poles with vibrant ribbon. The women proceeded to cross the grotto bridge while humming in unison to symbolize their connectedness in this effort. The poles were placed in the thawing ground and left there.

Schmalenberger passed out flower seeds to participants as they walked back across the bridge and exited the grotto. The seeds were forget-me-nots and marigolds, which are the flowers of despair. Schmalenberger described the flowers as a way to remember what women around the world are going through.

“[It’s a way] our prayers and thoughts can cross over to our own lives here,” she said.

Schmalenberger said she selected the grotto bridge because it’s a “bridge most people don’t even notice.” While there were a number of high profile “Join Me at the Bridge” events around the world Monday, Schmalenberger emphasized how the St. Thomas group’s event can still have an impact.

“This little stone bridge tucked away on our campus can help us consider how the smallest bridge to connect with others can facilitate change,” she said. “A simple walk across a short distance – a stream, a street, an aisle in the grocery, a school hallway – has the potential to bridge gaps of understanding in our own neighborhoods.”

Theresa Malloy can be reached at