Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect Liliana Muñoz Lozada’s role as a leader of Women of Westby.
Senior advertising major Noel Waldron has spent a good portion of her time at Rowan inside of Westby Hall. After nearly four years, she has a message: “Everyone in this building is a Woman of Westby. And that goes for men, too.”
Noel Waldron is a leader of the Women of Westby (WoW) group, which aims to mobilize the Westby Hall community about the politics of gender, race, immigration, mental health and the treatment of the art community. They also seek to homage their namesake building, which they see as needing a little extra love. And, despite the organization’s name, they aren’t just interested in recruiting women.
“That’s a weird stigma we’re finding,” Waldron said. “You grew up swimming at the YMCA, which is the Young Men’s Christian Association. That’s what Women of Westby is – we’re open to everyone. It’s not a women’s club. We’re promoting feminine traits within people that would otherwise be pushed down – even within guys.”
Sophomore Jennifer Araya only joined Women of Westby recently, and though she describes herself as a “loner,” she’s found a community within WoW. When she first committed to Rowan, she didn’t think she would be studying art, believing herself to be more likely to become a nurse or a doctor. She had been part of another club, but it hadn’t ended up being a perfect fit for her.
“I found Women of Westby because I was looking for a more community-based club,” she said, explaining that member Charlotte Steinman roped her into the organization. “And now I fell in love with it. And I have new friends.”
The positive experiences of its members haven’t stopped WoW from receiving some criticism for their tactics, such as tagging sidewalks with messages of empowerment and support or creating posters with pro-immigration messaging. To Waldron, this is a difficult line to walk due to what she believes is the administration’s existing hostility toward art.
“If someone doesn’t like what you do, they’re going to continue not going to like what you do and finding reasons to,” Waldron said. “We want to be loud and activist, but also put a good name for Westby, because we are the ugly duckling of the school. We will become that beautiful swan one day – the most beautiful swan of all. But we already have so little as an art department here that stepping out of bounds makes us look bad to the school that already doesn’t care about the art building.”
Some of the issues Women of Westby sees in Westby Hall include leaking ceilings, common floods, old and outdated classroom spaces and improved facilities only for non-art departments outsourcing their classrooms.
In spite of this, though, Women of Westby bond over a shared fondness for the building they have been given, describing it as “magical.” The printmaking studio, covered in student art and with handwritten notes from former students, especially now-graduated Allison Dempsey, is a freeing space for many.
Senior Liliana Muñoz Lozada is also a leader of WoW, selected by the organization’s founder. She reflected on how her time in Westby Hall has impacted her personal growth, and why she’s grateful for her time in the art department.
“When I started here, at Westby specifically, I was a little bit negative about it,” Muñoz Lozada explained. “I always thought that if you want to be an artist, you had to go to an all-art school, but for financial reasons I decided to come here. After being here, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is legit.’ It’s definitely the professors – the majority of them are really helpful and really motivate you. I’ve had so many great experiences here… Westby has really helped me find my purpose in life, as a Latina artist, even if that sounds cheesy.”
Muñoz Lozada’s focus is metals and jewelry, a field where there are few women, and even fewer Latinas. One of the things she’s reflected on most fondly is how her art professors have motivated her to incorporate her identity into her art, and have promoted diversity within the field.
“Professors here are always encouraging me to create work that describes me as a Latina of a Mexican background, where my parents came from and immigrated from,” she said.
The Women of Westby operate autonomously, with no plans to affiliate with the Student Government Association. Supported by popular t-shirt sales and a wide net of alumni donors, they try to organize events that are as cheap and as accessible as possible, such as paper-making – the event being held this Wednesday.
“By having such loose boundaries, we’re able to have the person who joins the club be able to do what they want and have the title they want to have on their resume and have backup to support that,” Waldron said. As an advertising major, she’s struggled to show her work in university-sponsored spaces, which are traditionally only available to art BA or BFA students. “But with Women of Westby, I was able to have my own art gallery, which was the most amazing thing ever.”
Muñoz Lozada reflected on how much Women of Westby means not just to current students, but to former students as well.
“Something I’ve noticed is a lot of alumni, like past Westby students, comment on our social media accounts and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish we had this during our time.’ It made me think about how through the years, everything’s kind of been the same, repeating the same stuff, and I never knew until this past year. It makes me really happy that former Westby students are willing to join and donate to the Women of Westby, because they still care for this school. These are women or men that graduated like 10 years ago and have kids.”
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