Women of Distinction

A flagship program at WSU Vancouver was born out of a desire to show how women have lifted up others.

For a decade WSU Vancouver has celebrated Women’s History Month in March with its Women of Distinction event. Everyday women doing extraordinary things are recognized each year for their special ability to inspire, mentor and empower others.

The event was the brainchild of Michelle McIlvoy, who served WSU Vancouver as student involvement manager at the time. She was charged with growing student life, and as part of that, she wanted to create a program that served women.

“I had ideas swirling in my head. I wanted to acknowledge Women’s History Month, celebrate the accomplishments of women, and most importantly, produce an educational program that was meaningful, powerful and not limited to a lecture,” said McIlvoy.

One day Unitus Community Credit Union called looking to partner on a program. McIlvoy pitched her ideas, and Women of Distinction came to life.

“The words ‘inspire, mentor and empower’ were chosen carefully,” said McIlvoy. “Each is an action needed to make a difference in the lives of others. Women contribute to the fabric of our society in ways that can be overlooked or expected. Women of Distinction has been a place to bring forward these actions and celebrate what they are—moments or long-term investments women have made in lifting others up.”

McIlvoy recently took a new position with WSU, serving as director of strategic initiatives for the Division of Student Affairs at WSU Pullman. But her heart remains with Women of Distinction, and she has a vision for its future.

“Our country is in a critical place right now with women taking a stand for their rights,” McIlvoy said. “We are in a time of marches, demonstrations and hashtags that speak to the need for equity. WSU Vancouver plays a critical role in providing space for people to come together to learn about issues, express their voices and learn about the views of others. In the spirit of this notion and of Women of Distinction, I hope to see the program be inclusive in a way that acknowledges the complexity of gender.

“The use of womxn (not a typo) is a way the program and WSU Vancouver can continue to celebrate diversity. All individuals who identify as a woman should feel at home in this program,” McIlvoy continued. “Women of Distinction has embraced and celebrated women of color, women of differing abilities, and this would be a next step in supporting womxn.” ■