Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jones worked for the women’s study program at Washington State University. She actually worked at the University of Northern Colorado.
When Center for Gender Equity director Rita Jones was working on her senior honors thesis, a professor recommended she read Audre Lorde.
Jones, who studied English as an undergraduate at The College of Idaho, said Lorde’s work clarified feminist theories for her. She remembers being excited by Lorde’s writing.
“(Lorde’s work) was exactly what I had been thinking,” she said.
Jones went on to earn her master’s and doctoral degrees in English. She wrote all of her papers about female writers, specifically about how they reimagined women’s roles and gender roles.
Upon completing graduate school, she realized she wanted to be more involved in making a difference for gender equality.
Jones accepted a job at the University of Northern Colorado, where she was in charge of directing the women’s studies program. She began working with its Women’s Resource Center and soon realized she wanted to play a more active role in gender equality outside of the academic sphere.
“I really wanted to be able to be more active in gender equity,” she said. “I still totally love the academic part. I still maintain my scholarship and teach whenever I can, but I truly am focused on feminist praxis.”
Jones defines feminist praxis as the research-based connections of theory and practice.
Ten years ago, Jones came to Lehigh’s CGE, where she works with faculty, staff, alumni and students to spark conversation and work toward gender equality.
“Over the last 10 years, there has been a lot of positive progress toward gender equality at Lehigh,” she said.
Jones attends daily meetings and works closely with various groups on campus, such as the Panhellenic Council. She said she helps the council build strategies for long- and short-term issues and visits individual chapters and runs workshops to teach women in Greek life about gender equity.
Until this year, Jones had only worked with students. She said it had been a challenge to spread the word and make sure faculty and staff know the CGE is an available resource.
Now that she is working with staff as well, Jones is interested in Lehigh’s efforts around lactation support on campus. She is working to establish a policy or procedure to help new mothers have a sanitary space to pump, if necessary.
Student staff member Madison Williams, ’18, works in the CGE with Jones.
“The CGE is an amazing place to work on campus because of the environment and community that Rita creates,” she said
Jones encourages her staff to collaborate and support one another to create a comfortable work environment. The staff meets weekly and Jones invites everyone to openly share their feelings.
“She leads by example and I strive to emulate her if/when I am ever in a leadership role,” Williams said. “Rita inspires me to think of the big picture and strive for great things even when I do not think they’re achievable.”
Tanairy Ortiz, ’19, another CGE student staff member, said Jones is an extremely supportive and helpful boss. Jones has guided Ortiz through hard decisions and difficult times she has faced at Lehigh on multiple occasions.
“Rita (Jones) has been with me through thick and thin,” Ortiz said. “She has always provided a word of encouragement and of hope, and she always seems eager to help.”