photoAndie Graham

Class of 2009
Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Penn State DuBois
Nominated by Keely Roen

Every year, the ECO club at Penn State DuBois holds a fundraiser.  In the spring of 2007, the club decided to host a pudding wrestling match.  The ECO club is a male-dominated club populated by the Wildlife Technology Program–a program with 24 men and only four women. While the event was likely well-intentioned, even the publicity for the event–in which a woman wrestles another woman in a pool of pudding–was causing a spate of sexist remarks.  Sexually suggestive comments that objectified women were heard on campus and male students posted photos of the potential wrestlers online, accompanied by degrading comments.  One student, who initially supported the event, listened to the reactions and became increasingly concerned, and she chose to do something about it. That student is Andie Graham.

Andie has been described as nothing less than an “ethical force on the DuBois campus.” Her deep sensitivity to the suffering of others and her desire to put men and women on equal footing led her to speak out against the pudding wrestling event. Eventually, she was able to get the ECO club to change the nature of the fundraiser. But her leadership came at a cost. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy–and Andie’s ethical stand against the negative effects of the pudding wrestling event was met with ridicule and name-calling.  Students voiced open hostility to her, both in person and online. Yet through it all, Andie’s belief in the ethical foundation of her position was not shaken. When asked if she would stand up and speak out again, knowing how much criticism she would receive, she said that she would. Such resolution is one mark of a good leader.

Andie’s immediate goal was to lobby for a more respectful fundraising event. But her broader goal was to raise awareness and set an example demonstrating that it was important to speak out about harassment, discrimination, and sexism. One of her instructors explained, “Andie Graham lives by poet Audre Lorde’s words: ‘Your silence will not protect you.’  She understands that silence in the face of prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination equals acquiescence.  She lets her voice be heard in the cause of justice, and by doing that, serves as a role model to those who haven’t yet found the strength to break their own silences.”

Andie’s struggle against the pudding wrestling match succeeded in breaking silences on the DuBois campus. Women who had been involved with the fundraiser, but who had remained silent about their discomfort, came up to Andie after the modified event and thanked her for taking a stand on their behalf. Understanding that every woman has a right to be treated fairly and with dignity, she took a stand.

Andie Graham stood up against harassment, even though it meant enduring harassment herself. And in a very real way, Penn State is a more just community thanks to her leadership.

 

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