Women’s History Month Q&A: Get to know Megan Novell

March 26, 2024

Megan Novell holds an award while standing in front of a green backdrop with a blue, neon sign that spells ϲʲͼ Mercy.March is Women’s History Month and to recognize that, ϲʲͼ Mercy’s Marketing & Communications department is introducing you to a few interesting women on the McNichols Campus throughout the month. MarCom student intern Sam Gillmore spoke to Megan Novell, Title IX coordinator, equity and compliance specialist and co-director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, for a Q&A. Novell’s responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Megan Novell
Position Title: Title IX Coordinator, Equity and Compliance Specialist and Co-Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program

What does women’s history month mean to you? 

I do wonder if we should just call it Women’s Month. I think a focus on contemporary issues and on the unique perspectives and priorities of women ought to be, and fortunately in practice actually is, a lot of how we tend to observe this month. Not that we need to exclude attention to the past. Women’s history is history, even if it is not taught that way everywhere, and it’s always surprising and funny and depressing to me all at the same time what students don’t know about what women’s lives were like in even the very recent past. So, for me, it’s a lot of trying to find a balance — celebrating women’s accomplishments and progress toward social equality while also not pretending that the work is done.

Who is your female role model?  

No way I can choose just one. There is my mom, who is so tough and so smart, who instilled in me such a strong feminist consciousness, who is so committed to being a good person and doing the right thing. At the University, (Associate Professor) Rosemary Weatherston, who has given me so much. She is incredibly smart, and probably more than anyone else has shown me how to care for people. Claire Crabtree was such an example to me: the first director of the then-Women’s Studies program, the first woman in the English department ever. I’m always using something that used to be hers or wearing something she gave me. And finally, the provost, Pam Zarkowski, who has taught me so much about how to be the person I want to be. Working for her has been the luckiest break of my life. 

How do you strive to be a mentor to other women?  

I have not thought of myself as an example to other women, but if I am setting an example, I hope I am showing the possibilities of what it looks like to be a woman. Being able to be gender non-normative and able to flourish is possible! It’s a big tent, this gender, and you can be a woman all kinds of ways. And it is such a privilege to be able to work with women during this part of their lives. The experience of feeling like you aren’t good enough is so common for women. I am proud to be able to help young women see how good they are. 

What challenges have you faced in your field and how have you overcome them? 

The most frustrating thing for me as a woman and as a professional is not being taken seriously. You do often have to work twice as hard. Especially because I am working in Title IX and trying to stop, prevent and remedy discrimination on the basis of sex, it surprises me that people can act like women are getting an unfair advantage when they seek equal access to their education. The assumption that women are acting in bad faith is disappointing. But the only thing to do is keep working.

Why were you interested in working in your field? 

I was working in the library, keeping the books safe, and one day I started chatting with the former Title IX coordinator about my background in women’s studies, and she asked me to join her team on a part-time basis. Early on in that role, I was working on an investigation, and I was worried because one of the parties was a former student of mine, worried that my involvement would be weird for them or would compromise the process somehow. But they said they actually felt better knowing me, and it stuck with me, feeling that my presence was effective. I find a lot of meaning in knowing that I am able to be helpful. Ideally, we would live in a world with no discrimination. For now, being empowered to do something about it when it happens is the next best thing. It is important work to do, and I believe in it.  

What is your advice for young women? 

Pay attention to people you admire. Finding women who were doing what I wanted to do or were the way I wanted to be is how I have learned every single thing I know how to do.