Faculty, students feel empowered after attending the Women's March on Washington

After meeting an elderly couple from southern Michigan at the Women’s March on Washington, Shelly Hinck felt inspired by the significance of the protest that resonated with everyone, regardless of age.

Hinck, a communications professor at Central Michigan University, said her involvement with the march in Washington D.C. on Jan. 21 was a life-changing experience.

“The marchers were positive,” Hinck said. “Now we’re ready to come back and continue the cause.”

Hinck was among several faculty members and students from CMU who journeyed more than 600 miles to join more than 500,000 others in the Women’s March on Washington. The group associated with Hinck knew they wanted to attend the march after the 2016 election results were confirmed, and made official plans to go during Thanksgiving weekend. From the moment they left Michigan early Friday morning, the university affiliates immediately felt a connection with the magnitude of protesters across the country.

“At every rest stop, there were women wearing pink hats," said Lesley Withers, a communications professor. "Even though we weren’t wearing the hats, there were women who asked if we were going to the march.” 

“We were in Ohio, and these women cheered and high-fived us in the middle of the parking lot,” she continued. “Just that feeling of being a part of such an exciting and important event was really inspiring.”

On the day of the march, the group left their hotel room in Baltimore at 6 a.m. to embark on a seven-hour expedition to Washington D.C. Withers said they were among the countless marchers who were delayed by transit services due to massive crowds.

But because the metro was filled with women and supporters all waiting to go to the march, Withers said a sense of unity was established before they even entered the city.

“At all of these metro stations around the outskirts of the city — the march continued until we were able to get there in person,” she said.

They finally made it into the capital at around 1 p.m., right when the protesters started marching. Although the crowd was made up of travelers from across the country, it wasn’t long before the group heard a familiar tune.

Withers recalled seeing a woman standing on the side of the street playing a tuba with a sign placed above her head displaying an outline of Michigan. The women were excited to hear CMU’s fight song coming from the horn and yelled “Fire up chips!”

Withers also identified familiar faces in the sea of people, and had the opportunity to meet actress Rosario Dawson after realizing they’d been marching side-by-side.

“It was very cool to see so many people from different walks of life and experiences coming together,” she said. “There was a strong sense of unity and collaboration for something bigger than ourselves.”

Mount Pleasant senior Ashley Howell traveled to the march with the faculty members. She had maintained a close relationship with Hinck after working as her teaching assistant.

“A few weeks after (Hinck) secured her hotel reservations she invited me to go, and I was thrilled,” Howell said. “I was (already) looking for a way to go, but didn’t know anyone else who was going.”

Howell said going to the Women’s March and being surrounded by so many dedicated people was an empowering and emotional experience.

“You get teary eyed seeing how many people are fighting for equality, especially (because) it can be isolating to feel we are moving backwards (as a progressive nation),” Howell said.

Hinck said the intergenerational message — involvement of several generations — was clearly evident at the Women’s March on Washington, as exemplified by the presence of the elderly Michigan couple she noticed. She was moved by the cross-generational connectedness she witnessed not only in the crowd but also personally.

Hinck marched with both of her daughters — one who teaches in Ohio and the other who’s currently in graduate school in New York.

“I started taking my daughters to Take Back the Night marches when they were 5 years old,” Hinck said. “The fact we’re continuing our commitment to ensure that equality is not forgotten is something that’s important to all of us.”

The diverse crowd of marchers — of different ages, races and ethnicities — all committed to making their voices heard, demonstrated a powerful illustration of democracy, she said.

Howell said it was incredible to witness the sheer number of protesters present and to see a diverse group of people represented and unified around shared issues of interests and equality.

Withers said they felt passionate about joining the march because social movements and the notion of giving a voice to those who need to be empowered are topics inherently of interest to communications professionals.

“I think it’s pretty natural that a bunch of communications faculty members who are also women, and have daughters, are also interested going and exploring those issues,” she said.

Withers added going to the march was an important exercise in using her voice to partake in the democratic system. She valued being able to stand up and participate in something she knew would be historic.

“I wanted to make sure this new administration understands the importance and value of listening to everyone’s voice,” she said. “I think in order to do that you have to participate. That’s what democracy is — everyone being heard. If I’m not there offering up my voice, then I really shouldn’t complain about not being heard.”