College Students Honor Women Through Poetry

Suny Old Westbury hosted an open-mic in celebration of International Women’s Day

A student watches as a poem is being recited.

The small classroom was filled to the brim with women of various ages and races. There are a few men scattered throughout the sea of feminine voices. Some individuals stand to the side while others bring in chairs to accommodate the crowd. A faint light projected onto a screen at the front of the room reads in bold letters, “International Women’s Day”

Many people may not be aware of the fact that March 8th is International Women’s Day. On March 7th of this year the women of Suny Old Westbury gathered together at a poetry open-mic night to commemorate the occasion. The event was held on the Old Westbury campus and hosted by the English department’s Dr. Danielle Lee. It was at this event that a diverse group of young women came together in celebration of womanhood and femininity.

Doctor Lee gives an opening statement before the reading begins.

According to Dr. Lee this was not the first time the Old Westbury campus held a poetry open mic. Lee created the event six years prior when she joined the English department. She set out with the mission to cultivate a community among English majors. It soon snowballed into something greater. According to Dr. Lee these open-mics have attracted students from across different departments. “What I love about that is that creativity is not just based on majors, creativity is creativity — its human.” said Lee.

The enthusiasm on behalf of the students was evident during the open mic. A spirit of unity and solidarity was tangible. There were no moments of prolonged silence as a continuous procession of women contributed. Students from different walks of life stepped forward and poured out their hearts. Some spoke of their experiences with sexual assault or domestic abuse. Others sang praise to the brave women who had influenced their lives.

Women read from Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath as well as lesser known contemporary poets. Some even shared original works. According to Lee it is not uncommon for inspiration to hit students during a reading. “It’s typically the people who are most fearful of public speaking, where they will stand up and say, ‘I just wrote this is that okay?’ … It’s a favorite event of mine because I get to see such creativity and talent, but more so confidence building,” said Lee.

Monique Campbell was one student who recited a poem. Campbell was visibly nervous when she went up to perform. “I was just pushed to the front — literally.” She said, laughing nervously. “This poem is called, ‘You Are Not His Baby Mama, You Are My Mother’” Campbell had said to the audience. They nodded their heads and expressed sounds of affirmation at the powerful words. As the poem began her eyes faced forward, but they were no longer directed at the crowd. It was as if she was pulling the words from thin air, one by one piecing together a rhythmic lyric.

Monique Campbell performs “You Are Not His Baby Mama, You Are My Mother.”

She later revealed that she freestyled the poem in the heat of the moment. According to Campbell she comes to a reading with a pre-written piece. “Depending on the energy [in the room] I usually either A. go with the original piece or B speak from the heart, and I chose to speak from the heart today.” said Campbell. The event ended with many students still wanting to participate. Lee hinted at a possible part-two open mic to accommodate this desire.

The official International Women’s Day website states that, it was during an International Conference for Working Women in 1910 that the Women’s Day known today came about. Its goal was to unify women across the globe. The tradition continues in the modern world every March 8th. In past years Old Westbury took part in the celebration by hosting events.