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Aiming for tangible change

Emerald Archer juggles numerous roles at the Mount, all in the name of gender equity

March 11, 2022

Emerald Archer started thinking about women’s issues early in her life. “I was raised by a single mother who worked very hard,” she explains. “She’s also an immigrant, so she had to create opportunities for herself and push beyond limits.” That example piqued Archer’s interest in the barriers that women face.

Inspired by an undergraduate course in political philosophy, Archer launched a career as a political scientist with a focus on gender studies. When Mount Saint Mary’s opened a search for someone to lead its new Center for the Advancement of Women, she saw a chance to complement research and advocacy with direct action. “The position offered the opportunity to build initiatives with partners in our city to push gender equity forward and create tangible changes at the local level,” she says.

Emerald Archer fills many roles -- political science professor, director for the Center of Advancement for Women, executive director of the Women's College Coalition and mother. Time with her young daughter gives her perspective and reminds her to take time to step back and recharge.
Emerald Archer fills many roles -- political science professor, director for the Center of Advancement for Women, executive director of the Women's College Coalition and mother. Time with her young daughter gives her perspective and reminds her to take time to step back and recharge.

Archer became the Center’s founding director in 2017 and joined the Mount’s faculty as associate professor of political science in 2019.

In one notable project, the Center collaborated with the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to correct an unfortunate situation—that only 8% of named buildings, streets and monuments in the city recognized women. “We had workshops at Mount Saint Mary’s, which included our students and faculty, to put together a database of women of influence in our local communities,” Archer says. The mayor can draw on that resource when new naming opportunities arise.

Among other initiatives, the Center has created a Legislator-in-Residence speaker series at the Mount, and it produces localized reports for women’s commissions across California using its publication, The Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California, as a model.

One of Archer’s current passions is the Mount’s new major in Women and Gender Studies, which she designed together with Lia Roberts, chair of the political science department. “I’m excited to start promoting the program and recruiting students who might be interested in doing research that is project-based or tied to other organizations the Center works with,” Archer says.

She’s also pleased to be part of a project called “Women at the Los Angeles-Tijuana Border.” The recent National Endowment for the Humanities grant will enable students to study many dimensions of women’s experience in the region, with an emphasis on music, art, poetry and storytelling. “It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a program that is focused on the humanities and intersections with equity issues,” Archer says.

Another point of pride is Archer’s work as executive director of the Women’s College Coalition, which focuses on advocating for women’s universities and colleges at the federal level. “We have been working with friendly legislators who, for the first time ever, have inserted language in legislation underscoring the importance of supporting women’s colleges and universities. This is a first great step, but this is more work to do,” she says.

While juggling her many academic roles, Archer is also raising a small child and, of course, coping with the stress of life during the pandemic. All this reminds her how important it is to step back and recharge one’s batteries. “As a society, I think we’re right on the precipice of burnout,” she says. “That does not make for creative thinkers or innovative content.”

For a restorative jolt, Archer often reads fiction. And, while parenting is hard work, time with her daughter brings a great deal of joy. “The impromptu dance parties, the playing on the floor and reading to her — that’s all very rejuvenating,” she says.

Archer also draws strength from her students. “They are all really excited and animated about creating a more positive world, whether their individual focus is on climate change, racial justice or gender equality,” she says. “They give me hope that we can persist through hard times and remind me that, to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’”