Market Square on the weekend is a fun place to be, but one group of UT student activists gathered there Friday night for more than just a good time. Several graduate students spent the evening promoting the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment, if added to the U.S. Constitution, would make legal provision to prevent discrimination based on gender.
While to some this may seem like an irrelevant issue in today's society, Jenna Hippensteel, a second year master's student in social work, would disagree.
"We believe that adding the ERA to the constitution is invaluable to men and women alike because it guarantees equality for everyone," Hippensteel said. "Passing the ERA at the national level could be a step toward gender equality whether in workplace leadership, the wage gap between men and women, or in congressional representation."
Hippensteel and her team of fellow social work students have dedicated time and energy to fighting a battle that began long before their time.
"This isn't a new issue," Hippensteel said. "The amendment was written in 1923, but states still haven't passed it."
Nevertheless, the end is in sight for Hippensteel and her classmates Margeaux Hill, Lindsay Harper, Joe Goeltz and Jayme Hogan-Yarbro, all of whom are also second year master's students.
"The ERA only needs to be ratified by three more states to be added to the constitution," Hippensteel said.
Friday's Market Square event focused its efforts on informing the general public about this amendment and encouraging citizens to take action.
The team of activists, however, went beyond the traditional flyer in order to bring attention to their cause.
"On Friday evening, we wore T-shirts with different examples of gender inequity," Hippensteel said. "These included the wage gap in which women earn $0.81 for every $1 that men earn and (that) there are only 100 female congressional representatives out of 538."
Despite small numbers, Hippensteel deemed her group's event a success.
"We handed out over 100 flyers and several people seemed genuinely interested in learning more about this issue," she said. "Whether through flyers, conversations or people reading our T-shirts, at least someone took away knowledge from this event about the ERA that they did not have before Friday evening."
In addition to reaching the Knoxville community with their plight, Hippensteel's group has also been concentrating on getting the attention of the campus population.
"We have handed out flyers around campus to try to raise awareness among students," Hippensteel stated. "We also have a Facebook page that we encourage students to visit titled "Passing the Equal Rights Amendment — Advanced Policy Practice Project."
Although Friday night's event was the last the team had planned to raise awareness about the issue, Hippensteel is optimistic that the impact of their actions will continue to resonate.
"I would really like to encourage students to get involved in this issue," she said. "If students are from one of the states that haven't passed the ERA — particularly Florida, Georgia, Illinois or Arkansas — it is really important for them to express their views about the ERA to their legislators, as these states are closest to ratification."
At least one UT student feels that the efforts of Hippensteel and her colleagues is worthwhile.
"I think that by continuing to raise awareness among college campuses, such as UT, students will realize that their opinion matters and they can take part in the ratification of the ERA," Caitlin Evans, a freshman in anthropology, said. "This would be good for our generation to step up and have a voice."