Gender Equity for Teens Conference Featuring an Interview with Co-President Jane Clarke
She Votes Illinois was excited to participate in the 6th annual Gender Equity for Teens (GET) annual Conference on May 25–29, 2020. Typically, the GET Conference is a one-day event where teens from across the city of Chicago venture downtown to Walter Payton College Prep to discuss topics related to intersectional feminism. This year, due to COVID-19, the conference was instead a week-long virtual forum aimed at inspiring teens to take action and continue having conversations about feminism with their peers beyond the five days of the conference.
Jane Clarke is a graduating senior from Walter Payton and co-president of the GET conference this year. She Votes Illinois interviewed Jane Clarke following the virtual conference.
Tell us about yourself. Share with us a little bit about who you are and your journey into activism.
I have been interested in feminism since I was a freshman in high school. My involvement in the GET club at Payton stemmed from my negative experiences in male-dominated classrooms. My outspoken personality and passion for feminist issues often did not mesh well with the academic spaces I was in. Consequently, I brought my voice and ideas to the GET club and attended the GET conference during my freshman year. After attending, I was inspired to lead the club in my sophomore and junior years and eventually organize the conference this year.
What is the history behind the creation of the GET conference at Payton?
The GET Conference is an annual event centered around intersectional feminism. It was created as a subset of the Payton Organization of Women (POW), the feminist organization at Walter Payton College Prep. Typically in the spring, teens from around the city flock to Payton each year to participate in the one-day event. This year, however, the conference was shifted to a week long virtual platform to adhere to the social distancing guidelines of the coronavirus pandemic while still serving to educate Chicago teens about gender equity.
Why did you get involved in the GET conference?
Ever since I was little, I knew that I was passionate about fighting for equal rights for all genders. I got involved in the GET Conference as a way to transform my feminist ideas into action. The theme of the conference this year was a call to action. Our goal was to inspire attendees to foster positive change in their lives following the forum.
Tell us about the women in your life. Who are some of your influences?
One of my biggest inspirations throughout my life has been my mom, who has been very supportive of my feminist journey. In 2017, following the election of Donald Trump, she drove my friend and I to the Women’s March in Washington, allowing me to share my voice and stand up for what I believe in. My mom is confident and has a unique perspective on the world, which has helped shape my views and pushed me to fight back on the gender inequities that I and others have been faced with throughout our lives.
What type of message are you hoping that conference attendees take away?
Every year, the conference focuses on intersectional feminism. This year, the goal of the conference was for attendees to have a set of actionable items by the end of the week that they could use to help them create change in their communities.
How did you adapt your conference to an online platform after the coronavirus pandemic?
The GET Conference, like many other 2020 events, was made virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. As opposed to the traditional, one-day in-person conference, the 2020 conference was a week long, virtual event held over Zoom. Attendees were given multiple sessions to choose from on Monday-Thursday. On Friday, they were able to hear from a variety of organizations, including She Votes Illinois (SVI), on how these organizations promote feminism and what they can do to get involved. Mary Catherine Hanafee LaPlante, a board member of SVI and a rising senior at Prospect High School, represented SVI at the GET Conference, where she promoted the vote-by-mail campaign that SVI has been endorsing through various social media channels.
What are some of the workshops you had this year?
Participants of this year’s GET Conference attended breakout sessions, heard special guest speakers, and enjoyed an art gallery specially dedicated to showcasing teen art. The sessions were chosen through an application process. I wanted to ensure that there was a wide range of topics for attendees to choose from and that there would be an adequate number of people in each breakout room for the presenters to speak to. The breakout sessions were as follows:
- The Exploitation of Black Women
- Kitchen Culture: The Politics of Food
- Dismantling Rape Culture
- Who’s in Your Playlist?
- The ‘Dirty’: Sex Education in Illinois
- Elevating LatinX Communities
- Occupational Sexism
- Virtual Action Fair
Certain sessions, such as The Exploitation of Black Women and Elevating LatinX Communities, are consistent from year to year as a reflection of the GET Conference’s commitment to uplifting various identities of women and educating people about intersectional feminism. Sessions like Who’s in Your Playlist and Kitchen Culture: The Politics of Food were new this year to spark conversations about topics that attendees may have been less familiar with. I hoped participants in the conference would leave with a greater understanding of how they can take action in their communities and contribute to the fight for a more equitable society for all genders.
What are some of the goals of the conference next year? How do you plan to get those that wouldn’t normally consider themselves feminists to attend?
Before the in-person event was canceled, we had 150 tickets reserved. I hope that next year, the audience can be even larger. Furthermore, I would like to continue to stress the importance of taking action after the conference and starting conversations related to gender equity with people who may not normally find themselves thinking about this topic. Next year, I hope to see more male allies attend the conference. Some ideas I have to recruit more people are increased advertising as well as incentives such as free food and giveaways! I would love to see attendees taking action to improve our future, and hope that the information they take away from the conference will inspire them and give them guidance on how to do so.
By Mary Catherine Hanafee LaPlante, Board Member and Emma Zubak, Advisory Council, She Votes Illinois