Event spreads word of U’s office for women

University alumna Peggy Flanagan is 25, childless and American Indian. She is also the first indigenous person to be elected to the Minneapolis school board.

Emma Carew

University alumna Peggy Flanagan is 25, childless and American Indian. She is also the first indigenous person to be elected to the Minneapolis school board.

Flanagan was the guest speaker at the University Women of Color’s fall welcome as part of its “Institutional Change in Challenging Times” speaker series, sponsored by a grant from the Office for University Women.

The event, while it lacked student attendance, gave students, staff members and faculty members an opportunity to meet one another and network.

Co-facilitator Toni Coleman said the group planned to introduce new students and staff members to UWOC and the group’s opportunities and programming for the year.

The UWOC is a place where culture is valued and acknowledged, said UWOC co-facilitator Jaki Cottingham-Zierdt.

UWOC is about “embracing the full spectrum of the University community,” she said.

UWOC leaders honored Flanagan with a tribal blanket emblazoned with a “great star” pattern.

“We honor her for all that she does, for the voice that she has on behalf of all of us,” Cottingham-Zierdt said.

Flanagan, whose address was themed “Women Who Soar Make History,” began by introducing herself in Ojibwa.

She detailed her coming of age while at the University, including her first American Indian studies class, which she said was her first experience of being in a room full of people who looked like her.

Flanagan studied child psychology and American Indian studies and worked as a parents advocate in the Minneapolis school system. She became involved with Paul Wellstone’s 2002 campaign after realizing he was a candidate who understood native issues, she said.

“The day Paul and Sheila died was the day my life began,” she said.

Flanagan said she eventually was pushed to run for the Minneapolis Board of Education to represent American Indian people in the community. She said during her campaign that she realized how very little people know about American Indians.

“My mom is the strongest woman I have ever met in my entire life,” Flanagan said. “I never understood that women couldn’t be business executives or elected officials. I am bound and determined to continue to think that is normal.”

She said that for people to bring about changes they seek, they need to show up and hold their leaders accountable.

Melissa Brown, who works in the Office of University Relations, said this was the third UWOC event she has attended. Brown said it was an impressive idea to have the series so attendees could discuss issues that are common among them.

At past events, she said, participants have discussed the University environment during the 1960s and 1970s, and talked about how diverse groups have come into existence since then.

Brown said it is good to hear about positive actions women have taken in the past, especially those who were in departments started and managed by men and who went through rocky transitions to get where they are today.

Pam Riley, a medical social worker at the Community- University Health Care Center, said she likes how UWOC supports staff and faculty members and students who would not otherwise have cultural and emotional support for the professional environment.