Alumnae display pride

Jailon Berry describes being a woman as having a superpower and credits NIU for much of her inspiration in life.

By Darius Parker

March has just begun and, with it, Women’s History Month. From Oprah Winfrey to Taylor Swift, the month of March is the time to highlight the strength and achievements of women everywhere. Here are three NIU alumnae who are trailblazing their own history.

Ari Owens

Class of 2016

Degree: English

Ari Owens works at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and said life has been great since she graduated.

“I feel like I have a unique opportunity to influence students,” Owens said. “It’s like I automatically became a role model.”

Sitting in her women’s and gender studies classes are some of Owens’s favorite memories of NIU. She said those classes helped reinforce her own ideals and strengthen what it means to her to be a woman.

“I enjoy surprising people,” Owens said. “Society has a very small, one-dimensional view of what it means to be a woman, and not being able to fit into those stereotypes by being myself and being unapologetic about it is probably my most favorite thing about being a woman.”

Jailon Berry

Class of 2015

Degree: rehabilitation services

Since roaming the halls of DuSable Hall, Jailon Berry went on to work as a community support case manager for individuals with developmental disabilities. She also became a licensed Zumba fitness instructor and is a co-blogger of the women’s empowerment blog, Q.U.E.E.N.S. in Action.

“I owe my professional development to the S.I.S.T.E.R.S. organization and Gender and Sexuality Resource Center,” Berry said. “Both taught me leadership, effective communication, program management, public speaking and [how] to be taken seriously as a young black woman.”

Berry credits several women from NIU whom she felt set a remarkable example for her such as Carrie Williams, assistant director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and Molly Holmes, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center. She said the women at NIU played a significant role in her life.

“Being a woman is like having some crazy superpower,” Berry said. “In a single day, I must have the strength to attack challenges thrown my way, an attitude that demands respect simply by entering a room, the compassion to cater to the needs of the individuals I serve, display confidence in everything I do and the elegance to make it all look easy.”

Karli Johnson

Class of 2011

Degree: communication studies

Since performing as NIU mascot Victor E. Huskie and being involved in the Women’s Rights Alliance, Karli Johnson has been working hard toward her goals. She’s established a successful career as a nationwide public speaker on power-based personal violence, a type of violence that uses power to harm another individual. Johnson said her time at NIU played a big role in her personal growth towards her career.

“I was a freshman during the [2008] shooting,” Johnson said. “[I was also] sexually assaulted and experienced dating violence [in my] relationship. My experiences through these traumas taught me major life lessons about advocating for women and victims of violence.”

Johnson said being a woman is a journey in itself and her connections with other women and experiences as a survivor of violence strengthens everything she does and she hopes to help others through her work.

“I’ve reached my goals because I am a strong woman and I’ve had the support of other strong women,” Johnson said.