Shawna Morton, a strategic communication master's student, is bringing attention to important women in history, one card at a time.
Morton came up with the idea to create trading cards inspired by influential, obscure women that have made essential contributions to various fields. Her collection of 41 trading cards was inspired by the limited acknowledgment of women she encountered throughout her education.
“I started to learn about all these women that I’ve never heard about before, and it bothered me that I was all the way in my bachelor’s in college when I learned about them,” Morton said. “I wish I would have known when I was younger … when people grow up, they have certain perceptions of women.”
Morton said that many times, society focuses on women’s appearance and beauty rather than their ideas and accomplishments. With the trading cards, she said, she wanted to redirect that focus and highlight their work, instead.
“It takes a lot of research and decision-making,” she said. “At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to uncover many women at all, but (I) started going down these rabbit holes, so how do I even choose? ... I wanted to make sure I chose women from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, races and upbringings to touch as many as I could.”
She said it is easier to find unknown women of color because history books detail a lot more about white women.
The trading cards are designed with an image of each woman featured on the front and a short biography on the back. The informational paragraph is written in a way that balances education and art so that young kids can easily engage with the material.
This year, Morton worked with second and third graders from Donley Elementary School to help students create a piece of art inspired by the women they learned about.
Morton and art teacher Amy Miros facilitated a project where students selected, researched and painted one of the featured women. The art is displayed at Lansing’s Impression 5 Museum until March 31. A community opening ceremony was held on March 5th.
“I know some kids were really excited and went home and told their parents about it,” Morton said. “In class, they got out (their) iPads and they would go on deeper dives. That got the kids more attached to the women they chose.”
Though none of the students knew any of the women on her cards, Morton said many students gravitated towards certain women, such as Temple Grandin, Razia Sultana and Marie Curie. One card featuring Selena Quintanilla was especially popular, she said.
Morton noticed many attitude and idea changes among students as the project developed.
“Some of the boys in the class were not as excited,” she said. “They kept saying, ‘Where are the boys?’ They’re little, they don’t understand the weight of women’s history month, so kind of redirecting them and saying, ‘What are some things you have in common’ ... (got) them interested … whether it was science or athletics.”
Their perceptions really changed when they came to see their art on the wall, she said.
“It didn’t matter if it was a woman, the most random drawing … they were excited to be a part of the project,” Morton said. “They were excited about a woman in history.”
Morton says there is "a lot of work to do" when it comes to including women in curricula, particularly women of color. She thinks a good way for schools to incorporate women’s history into their curriculum is to create interactive projects because it allows students to explore and find a sense of autonomy, she said.
At the gallery’s opening ceremony, Morton noted that she and many of the parents became very emotional. She said because of the recent tragedy at Michigan State University, seeing the community and kids coming together during this time was a gratifying display of resilience.
“I’m so inspired by the kids every time,” she said. “Knowing everything that happens in the background and seeing it come together successfully makes me emotional.”