A long way from Chicago

Melissa Suran

If you travel about 1,000 miles north, you’ll find yourself in Obamaville, more commonly known as The Windy City or Chicago, my hometown. It’s not a secret that many Northerners are a tad bit skeptical of anything south of I-80.

Nevertheless, I decided to take a chance and move to Texas to attend one of the best universities in the country with the best weather — a Chicago winter makes Anchorage, Alaska, look like a tropical paradise. Luckily, Austin turned out to be everything that I had hoped for and more, especially when it came to the weather.

But even on the sunniest of days, after taking frantic notes during lectures, teaching labs and working on publishable research and theories that are probably anything but ground-breaking, many of us graduate students enjoy relaxing at home and indulging in the little pleasures of life.

As per usual, I came home late one night and turned on the TV before going to bed. “King of the Hill” was on, and in this episode, the main character, Hank Hill, made a deal to sell propane to a Renaissance Faire in Texas. Hank’s wife, Peggy, becomes involved with the Faire as well, but is forced into “female-appropriate” jobs, all of which have titles ending in “wench.” At the end of the episode, Peggy leads a suffragette movement more than 300 years before its time.

As a female pursuing a Ph.D. in journalism, I reflected on the fact that even 100 years ago, I would not have had this amazing opportunity. Reuters features a census from 1911 that indicates only 70 women — nationally — were regarded as reporters, journalists or editors at the time.

Journalism was traditionally a man’s job and female journalists like Nellie Bly, one of the first female investigative-reporters, had to go great lengths to prove she was just as capable as any man of writing hard news. And according to a reComparison.com article, women only accounted for 30 percent of college graduates with journalism degrees as late as in the 1970s. Moreover, as most movie-buffs can tell you, if you watch Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” you can see a satirized glimpse into the world of broadcast news back in the 1970s, which was not the easiest time for a woman to break into the field.

UT, which opened its doors in 1883, graduated its first female doctorate-recipient in 1916. Now, in 2012, five out of the eight doctoral students in my cohort are women. And out of those five women, one is African-American, one is Taiwanese and another is Chinese. The diversity embraced not only here on campus but also in American society is a beautiful thing.

None of this is uncommon knowledge. But sometimes we forget how fortunate we are, not only to pursue our passions no matter our sex, skin color or religious creed, but we are also lucky that cities like Chicago and Austin exist.

As the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan once stated, “Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.”

Suran is a journalism graduate student.