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7Sisters Project gives young women a voice

7Sisters2The 7Sisters Project hosted its third LIVE Summit, bringing women from around the Manhattanville College campus together to discuss problems they see in society and ways we can to empower women.

“Everyone is talking about female empowerment, but no one’s actually doing anything,” said Marilyn Fezza, co-founder and CEO of the 7Sisters Project.

The open-forum style summit encouraged the audience to shout out their answers to questions prompted by Fezza.

On March 2, the Berman Center Theater of the college was filled with students and alumnae eagerly waiting to discuss topics like gender inequality, sexism and racism.

Music pumped through the speakers playing female-empowering songs like “Run the World (Girls) by Beyoncé and “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child.

“I want to hear from girls from different parts of the country who have had different experiences and different things to contribute,” Fezza said.

The 7Sisters Project, which was started in 2010 by Marilyn Fezza and her daughter, Marisa Fezza, co-founder and associate producer, was inspired when Marilyn Fezza realized that young women weren’t being exposed to important issues in the news, and instead were more concerned with celebrity culture. This realization was made after Marisa Fezza made a documentary in her broadcast journalism class about the way pop culture consumes young girls’ lives.

The “7Sisters” in the name, Marilyn Fezza explained, is for the seven continents, which she hopes to reach with the project’s effort.

[Marilyn?] Fezza said that she wants to help create a sisterhood that “[takes] back the conversation from the media, [and] factions in society that are trying to oppress women.”

Marilyn Fezza and Daniel Ryan discuss his work with the Covenant House International. Photo/Taylor Brown
Marilyn Fezza and Daniel Ryan discuss his work with the Covenant House International. Photo/Taylor Brown

As the event went on, women from the audience were encouraged to sit in one of the five seats in the front of the theater to discuss their own experiences on topics suggested by the audience.

Chanda Pen Sar, senior class president at Manhattanville College, spoke on the women in leadership panel and discussed her own struggles with seeing herself in a position of power.

Pen Sar told the audience how when she first came to the school, she had dreams of becoming the student body president, but instead ran for a lower position, senior class president. She explained that she realized women take these steps down from their goals all the time.

Daneil Chambers, a freshman at Manhattanville College, told the Review she was interested in speaking on the panel about oppression.

Chambers said that she came to the event to hear other people’s opinions, and hopefully form new ideas based on the conversations around her. “I just want to make sure that the voices of those people who are usually oppressed are heard,” she said.

Each panel provided a chance for women to connect to one another.

During a panel on diversity, where students were encouraged to share their family traditions and values, students found themselves being able to relate to one another’s upbringing.

Beyond the student-based panel, there were also five guest speakers who were invited by Marilyn Fezza. This included Opal Vadhan, who was on the original 7Sisters Project panel seven years ago; Daniel Ryan, development manager at Covenant House International, a nonprofit that works with homeless youth, Lauren Frazza, a career coach; Susan Lachs, an advance practice registered nurse; and Helen Rothlein, senior vice president financial advisor at The Compass Group at Morgan Stanley.

Each speaker brought something unique to the conversation.

Vadhan discussed her work with the 7Sisters project, as well as her own upbringing. Vadhan is a first-generation Indian-American and said how growing up she didn’t feel represented in the media, and had wanted to change the way she looked to match what she saw around her.

From left, Julia Furlipa, Marilyn Fezza, Opal Vadhan, Chanda Pen Sar and Fallon Kirby discuss women in leadership. Photos courtesy Judy Klym
From left, Julia Furlipa, Marilyn Fezza, Opal Vadhan, Chanda Pen Sar and Fallon Kirby discuss women in leadership. Photos courtesy Judy Klym

Vadhan explained that, the work that the 7Sisters Project does is important “because I believe that girls and women should have a space where they can talk about issues that are important to them.”

Lachs provided the audience with tips on how to live healthier, less stressed lives. This included things like getting more sleep and exercise.

Rothlein discussed her own work on Wall Street and how important it is for young women to understand and control their own finances. “Women are a financial force to be reckoned with,” she said.

Marilyn Fezza said that within the past few months, “the 7Sisters Project has taken on a whole new meaning, because we’re now the only voice we know of that is talking to young women, who are pre-adult, who are saying ‘you matter.’”

When asked about plans for future LIVE Summits, Marilyn?] Fezza said she wants to get enough people on board to “help us build this so that we can create a nationwide and eventually [a] global tour.”

Marilyn?] Fezza explained that this would include going to more local community centers and schools, and to help girls from around the world share their experiences and contribute new things to the conversation.

“The 7Sisters movement is one where the collective, all of you here today, transform the narrative,” Marilyn?] Fezza told the audience. “You right here and right now are creating the world you think we should be living in.”

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