Bemidji State University reimagines justice at inaugural Women's History Month reception
Attendees heard from Minnesota State University Mankato's Maria Bevacqua, who delivered her keynote speech, “Gender Justice and the Supreme Court.”
BEMIDJI — Over the past month, Bemidji State University has been reimagining justice.
As its campus-wide theme for Women’s History Month in March, BSU capped off its celebration with an inaugural president’s dinner and keynote speech at the Beaux Arts Ballroom in BSU’s Hobson Memorial Union on Thursday.
Among the food and conversation, artwork from BSU students lined one side of the ballroom depicting each student’s interpretation of women’s power. Cards placed on each table detailed the lives and impacts of influential women leaders throughout history.
For the main event, attendees heard from Maria Bevacqua, professor of gender and women’s studies at Minnesota State University Mankato, who delivered her keynote speech, “Gender Justice and the Supreme Court.”
Throughout her speech, Bevacqua discussed the importance of understanding how the law affects people’s lives and detailed various Supreme Court cases concerning issues related to gender, sexual orientation and sexual violence.
“I think many people feel as though the law is this kind of thing that floats out there and doesn’t have very much to do with their own life,” Bevacqua said. “So I’m trying to offer a different view where we can see the role of the law in our everyday lives based on the types of issues that have been of concern to the Supreme Court in the types of cases it has decided.”
Among the cases discussed was Bradwell v. Illinois in 1873, which Bevacqua credited as the first-ever case that considered gender. Myra Bradwell became the first woman to pass the Illinois bar exam, but the Illinois Supreme Court denied her a license to practice law because she was married.
According to supremecourt.gov, Bradwell’s lawyers argued to the Supreme Court that Illinois violated Bradwell’s rights under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment when it denied Bradwell a license to practice law.
In an 8-1 decision, the court held that state regulation of the practice of law was independent of citizenship of the United States, and thus was not protected by the 14th Amendment.
Concurring opinions summarized the then-prevalent views of women’s role in society: “The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother…”
Bevacqua continued to discuss more recent court decisions including 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses.
Following her speech, audience members were encouraged to submit questions to Bevacqua. This included a discussion on the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion.
Soon after, the inaugural event came to a close.
“I just hope that people take away some good points even if they have some bullet points that they talk about with their friends and families,” Bevacqua said. “That would be a success.”
Working toward progress
For event organizer and BSU professor Jozie Nummi, bringing in Bevacqua was a chance to include the community in discussions related to women’s rights and equality.
“We wanted this to be an enriching experience, so we wanted a speaker that could address community needs and interests along with providing the scope of understanding where we’re at right now,” Nummi said, “for individuals to better understand their own lives and how they can achieve social change.”
BSU and Northwest Technical College President John Hoffman echoed Nummi’s sentiments, stating, “the message that Dr. Bevacqua shared was really powerful. It talks about the trends we have in terms of advancing women’s issues, but also that we’ve got challenges and we’ve got more work to do.”
Nummi noted that the theme of “Reimagining Justice” was instrumental to the planning committee hosting a month’s worth of events, which covered several facets of women’s history.
“‘Reimagining Justice’ was my perspective of honoring the work of past feminists and other activists. (Justice) doesn’t always look like a court case or putting someone in jail,” Nummi added. “Reimagining justice reflects the work of those activists to question the social institutions we’re a part of and asking ‘are they meeting our needs?’”
Nummi hopes to offer the president’s reception as an annual event for the community to engage with each other on the BSU campus.
“I would hope that we continue to center voices of marginalized women and ask ourselves how we can uplift the women around us to recognize the work that they’re doing,” she said. “The more we invest in women the more we can continue to make our community stronger.”
Hoffman noted plans to honor upcoming identity-based history months to build on BSU and NTC’s cornerstone values of holistic student learning and success, and diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Lifting up the importance of each month, celebrating the heritage, the history, the accomplishments and contributions, I think that’s part of how we put diversity, equity and inclusion into practice,” Hoffman left off. “When (students) see these types of spaces and these opportunities available to them, that’s where the magic can happen.”