Celebrating Women’s History Month With Edwina Simms
The University of Denver is committed to living our values of diversity and inclusion. We recognize that our community and institutional success is dependent on how well we engage and embrace the rich diversity of our faculty, staff, administrators, students and alumni. With that shared value in mind, throughout this academic year, we plan to publish a series of articles to celebrate cultural and ethnic heritage months. In partnership with Human Resources & Inclusive Community and the Staff of Color Association (SOCA), we will feature a staff or faculty member in recognition of each heritage month, along with an event to honor one another and learn about our unique differences.
When Edwina Simms took the job as the University of Denver’s director of regional engagement for the southeast region, she refused to be pigeonholed. Not only did her Alexandria, Virginia-based position allow her to build relationships with alumni, it gave her the opportunity to work with students, families, faculty, staff and community partners.
When a global pandemic threatened to isolate her from the community she loved, Simms, once again, refused to be limited.
“It’s been so incumbent on myself and my regional colleagues to continue to build upon that sense of enhancing community and continuing to connect in different ways,” she says. “It has really, if anything, allowed for some of our creative juices to flow to find more meaningful ways to connect.”
The result was C.U.E. (“connect, uplift, empower”) the Mic, a series of virtual events open to the entire DU community and focused on inspiring women. Five events drew more than 500 registrants on Zoom last fall and welcomed a panel of DU faculty and thought leaders for interactive discussions and dialogues. From a discussion of the role of the female voice in the 2020 election to a webinar on how to manage your career, Simms aimed to celebrate women in the DU community through education, advocacy, inclusion and mutual support.
“It shouldn’t just be a Women’s History Month opportunity,” Simms says. “We should be celebrating the actions and achievements of women and uplifting and empowering them in different ways throughout the year. C.U.E. the Mic allows us to bring people into the fold that maybe we had not before, offer mentorship space for our students, offer the opportunity to highlight the level of excellence that exudes within our alumni community as well as our parents, and ultimately bring a better sense of community.”
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Simms joined the DU Newsroom to share her story.
One of your online bios starts with this sentence: “As a woman who believes in serving causes far greater than herself ...” What does that mean, and where does it come from?
It’s a personal mantra of mine. I have always believed in working for causes greater than myself because we are all here for a purpose — and it’s not self-serving. It’s an opportunity for us to serve others. I believe that I am a public servant. In my faith, I believe that I am being used by God to do the work that he’s called me to do. I feel it’s a part of all of our callings to fit into that space to really help push toward supporting equality, equitability or support for all.
How do that mantra and outlook intersect with the work you do for DU?
I see how there’s a need for a diversity of thought and a diversity of opinion. I’m happy that I can offer or share my personal thoughts, by no means talking on behalf of an entire group of individuals, but I see how my drive to work with causes far greater than myself allows for me to advocate and push for a true diversity of thought and an additional perspective into certain work we’re looking to accomplish as a university. In observing and seeing the work that has been done so diligently by members of the DU community and also recognizing some gaps, I saw that there was definitely an opportunity that existed with regards to highlighting, recognizing and drawing a greater sense of belonging for women in our community.
Tell us more about C.U.E. the Mic.
When you think about cueing the mic, you’re teeing it up; you’re preparing for someone to come to the mic and hopefully say something that’s powerful, impactful in some way, shape or form. The acronym — connect, uplift, empower — that’s motivating people to say something more meaningful and more powerful.
It was very much a passion project, but also an entrepreneurial opportunity to just home in on things that are so important to me. If there’s an absence of your perspective or absence of your identity in the work you’re being called to do, I think it’s incumbent upon you to step up to that plate and advocate for change and advocate for that additional thought or perspective to be present.
In the summertime, with the November general election quickly approaching, [I thought,] why not identify a platform to celebrate women in a unique way that we can also hopefully highlight the [100th anniversary of the] women’s suffrage movement? It was going to be just an event to talk about voter empowerment and the women’s voice. A colleague of mine said, “Edwina, you should make this an actual series, not just a one-time transactional opportunity of thought and discussion and dialogue.”
It’s not by any means the Edwina show, but rather the University of Denver and our commitment to the public good and ensuring that all communities are celebrated in different ways. We can leverage this thematic series as an opportunity to celebrate and connect and uplift and empower women.
What has it been like seeing your idea come to life?
It’s exciting. You have this thought, and you want to see it come to fruition. Then you start to see the gears move and the momentum happen and people actually acknowledge it and want to be a part of it. All of that warms my heart. It also lets me know that the work my colleagues and I put forth is not in vain.
[C.U.E. the Mic] is for everyone. We’re celebrating the cultural and social achievements as well as work that’s being done to push the needle forward on diversity, equity and inclusion.
I was very intentional with the words for C.U.E. the Mic as far as understanding the importance of allyship and the importance of inclusivity, because there are a lot of ways to be a woman. It is not monolithic by any means. It encompasses so many intersections. For some, womanhood is strength. For others, it could be tenderness. But there shouldn’t be a definition of womanhood by relationships, jobs, body parts or anything else. It should be defined by you.
What is your definition?
Particularly as a Black woman, there are so many obstacles and challenges that you face. So the strength that lies within women, the sheer essence of continuing to push through and persevere and be resilient despite all obstacles, that is womanhood to me. I see it, I breathe it, I stand upon strong shoulders of women who have done it far greater than me. And I pray that I can be half the woman that my mother and my grandmother were. I know I have a little woman-to-be who’s looking up to me in the same way that I looked up to my mom and my grandmother. There’s a sense of responsibility that comes with motherhood that you’re not just doing it for yourself. You’re doing it for all women.
When we recognize Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, what are you thinking about? Who are you thinking about?
I’m thinking about all the women who came before me and what the future holds for my generation and generations to come. I am celebrating so much of the strength that exists within women I have looked up to, but I have to say, if I had to give you examples, the first and foremost, without a doubt, would be my mother. I think immediately of her and all she was able to accomplish.
My mother was a mother of three. She was a first-generation college student, and she also ended up pursuing paths that even she didn’t know she was going to pursue. She was the first woman and African American to become a member of the Florida House of Representatives for District 118. That district, in the southern part of the state, didn’t have women or people of color to represent that area. It wasn’t until she took that step and had the people rally behind her that she was able to break that glass ceiling.
Looking at and thinking of women like [former U.S. Congresswoman] Shirley Chisholm and seeing what she did, paving the way for who we have now in our vice presidency. You can’t help but be proud of those things, acknowledge and see the strength and perseverance and resilience that existed in them. Now it feels like the torch is being passed to all of us to continue to do something to impact the world on a positive level to the best of our ability. However you see yourself fitting in that puzzle, it’s incumbent upon you to do your work to, hopefully, positively impact society in some way.
In partnership with Human Resources & Inclusive Community, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, The Cultural Center, Community + Values, and the Staff of Color Association, we will feature a staff or faculty member in recognition of each heritage month, along with an event to honor one another and learn about our unique differences. If you are aware of any events that are happening on campus or have an idea for Heritage Month events, we'd love to hear about them and promote them campus-wide.