By Heidi L. Everett
From the Summer 2007 edition of Saint Benedict's Magazine
Ashleigh Leitch remembers correcting an elementary school teacher during a lesson on congressmen. She said, ‘’It’s congressperson because women can do that too."
That can-do attitude and quest for equality still resonates from Ashleigh. And it’s part of her ongoing message to the community of 2,000 young women with whom she shares Bennie pride.
She has plenty of opportunity to model the way as a resident assistant in Lottie Hall and women’s issues representative for the Saint Ben’s Senate. "It was a dream job!" Ashleigh recalled, when she learned of the senate position. It provided the perfect platform to raise awareness about self image, confidence, cultural perceptions of gender and, one of her favorite topics, feminism.
"When I was little, my parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be, so I grew up without any restrictions on my goals," she said. "As I became older and a little more conscious of the world, I realized that there were actually barriers — some subtle, some not so subtle."
For Ashleigh, feminists use their voice and talents to destroy barriers. "I refuse to accept anything that stands in the way of my goals, values or rights as a person," she said. "In this way, feminism is about building respect and a better life — not only for yourself, but for all people."
Feminism also leads to a sense of wholeness, she said, because it teaches women to value all aspects of themselves.
"For thousands of years, women were only valued for their roles as mothers. Feminism has changed that," Ashleigh said. "The right to vote, obtain education, participate in athletics, be protected against domestic abuse, sexual harassment, assault and discrimination, have a career outside the home, and many, many more rights were secured by feminists. We have a long ways to go, but, when I remember that my great-great-grandma couldn’t vote, I am amazed at how far we have come in only 87 years."
Ashleigh said women need to take responsibility for their rights and educate themselves. "When we empower ourselves and take action, great things happen — and will continue to happen." She often shares that encouragement with the 83 women who make up the community on her floor of Lottie Hall; for these Bennies, commitment to education and community involvement are a natural part of life.
From an academic standpoint, Ashleigh’s classmates believe in the importance of education. Incoming students are at the top of their class, graduating in the top 25 percent with a grade point average at or near 3.7. They also place in the top 20 percent of all national ACT test scores.
Once enrolled, they continue their academic rigor. In fact, more than 55 percent of Saint Ben’s students invest 16 hours a week or more to prepare for class. The national average for this same investment at liberal arts colleges is 40 percent. Saint Ben’s students study hard and work hard, and it shows. Their four-year completion rate of 70 percent compares to the national average of 50 percent at four-year private colleges and 40 percent at public colleges.
As for grades at graduation, the most recent graduating class of 2006 averaged a four-year cumulative GPA of 3.389. This isn’t too shabby, considering Bennies are about more than just books.
Co-curricular involvement runs a parallel course. Fully 97 percent are involved in at least one experiential learning activity outside of the classroom.
With two years remaining on her time at Saint Ben’s, Ashleigh has ample opportunity to continue defining herself and her contributions to the communities of which she is a part.
For someone who used to plan out everything, including what she was going to wear and eat each day, Ashleigh now is living in the moment. She will study abroad on the Chile program in fall 2007. She also secured an internship in Washington, D.C. for this summer, but that’s as far as it goes for now.
"A long time ago, I had the future all planned out, and I had to let that go," she said. "The most amazing thing for me right now is that when you walk in the senate chamber on campus, there are 17 women sitting around the table making decisions for all students at Saint Ben’s," she said. "There are 17 women called senator. We don’t even have that in the U.S. Senate."