Feminist. Loaded with connotations, it’s a word some women might shy away from. Not Shari Murgittroyd. Feminist is a word she closely identifies with, and it’s a word that she believes, if more people knew its true meaning, they would identify with too. For the true meaning, Murgittroyd says to look no further than a dictionary. “I ask people to do themselves a favor and read the definition,” she said. “(A feminist is) a person who believes that women deserve equal rights … Respect … That’s what it’s all about.” Along with being a feminist, Murgittroyd is many things. A friend, sister, daughter, mother, a counselor, student advisor, follower of Eastern philosophies, program coordinator for the Michigan State University (MSU) Counseling Center’s Sexual Assault Program and Capital Area Women’s LifeStyle Magazine’s first-ever Caring About Women Locally Award winner. Murgittroyd was honored as the CAWL Award winner during CAWLM’s 80s Flashback event on Saturday, March 19. “I feel very humbled,” said Murgittroyd of her win. “I keep thinking ‘wow.’” The CAWL Award was designed to honor a woman who helps other women in the Capital Area and may have gone unrecognized. CAWLM received many nominations and, with the help of the CAWL Award committee, selected Murgittroyd as the recipient. “I feel like it gives me that boost to find my next path,” said Murgittroyd. “I’m just tickled.” Where her next path will lead, Murgittroyd is not sure, but if her path so far has taught her anything it’s that she will end up in a position to help others, especially women. Murgittroyd was raised on a farm in the rural community of Ithaca, Mich. The youngest of four kids (separated by her next youngest brother by 14 years), Murgittroyd came to East Lansing in 1985 to study communications at MSU. When she became pregnant with her son, Nick — now 23 and in his senior year at MSU — she left school, got married and became a full-time mom. (Murgittroyd and her husband divorced after one year of marriage, but remain close.) Murgittroyd was working at a hospital, but was missing something. She decided that if she was going to spend 40 hours per week doing something, she was going to like it. And because Murgittroyd is the type of person who goes above and beyond, she also wanted a job that “changed people’s lives.” After four years out of college, Murgittroyd, who said she was “dying” to get back, re-entered MSU in 1991. This time, she majored in social work with a minor in women’s studies. It was then she met mentor Dr. Gladys Beckwith, who retired last year as the President of the Michigan Women’s Studies Association. Through her studies with Beckwith, Murgittroyd learned about patriarchy, feminism and oppression of women. “She was just an amazing teacher and feminist,” said Murgittroyd. Murgittroyd, who grew up among domestic violence, began to have clarity about her upbringing. “I know how difficult it is growing up with violence,” said Murgittroyd. “I saw how those things had shaped my family … A lot of children don’t realize their potential.” Despite the challenges she faced in her childhood, Murgittroyd said she is thankful for the support she received so that she could realize her potential. “I probably don’t give him credit enough but my brother Rick (helped me)” said an emotional Murgittroyd. Being 14 years older, Rick and his wife Carrie (who live in Holt) often took Murgittroyd on trips and for long weekends. “They were amazing,” she said. Despite his shortcomings, Murgittroyd said her late father also had a positive influence. “I think he gave me a voice,” she said. She added that her father always taught her to stand up for what she believes in. Murgittroyd said her mom has also played a big role in her success. “My mom gave all of us kids unconditional love … I think a lot of parents don’t understand that concept,” she said. “My mom is a very significant part of my life … She always told me I could do anything I wanted to do.” Following that advice Murgittroyd received her bachelor’s degree from MSU and, after a two-year break, returned to MSU to get her master’s degree in social work. “I loved graduate school,” she said. During grad school Murgittroyd began working with the Council Against Domestic Assault (CADA), which is now known as Eve’s House, a shelter for those experiencing domestic violence. Today, Murgittroyd serves on the board of directors at Eve’s. Following graduation, Murgittroyd landed a job with the Michigan Public Health Institute in Okemos working with Native American Tribes. After five years with that organization, Murgittroyd was recruited to work at the MSU Counseling Center, and nearly six years ago took on the role as Program Coordinator for the Counseling Center’s Sexual Assault Program. Along with her administrative role, Murgittroyd provides counseling services and facilitates support groups for sexual assault survivors. She is also an advisor to the traveling student theater troupe E5M (Every 5 Minutes). The troupe performs dialogs across campus and beyond talking about current events as they relate to domestic and sexual assault. “The students are what keep me going,” said Murgittroyd, who is also responsible for some fundraising efforts for the counseling center. “(Murgittroyd) is spreading feminist love to everyone she meets and enriching the lives of countless women she has never met. Her fundraising efforts outside her employment truly show (Murgittroyd’s) desire to help fellow women and make the Greater Lansing Area a place free of sexual assault and relationship violence,” wrote Stephanie Fluegeman, in Murgittroyd’s CAWL nomination. “(Her) work has not only showed me the importance of individually helping people, but the true need to be giving and caring and never stop helping women in the community.” In addition to her other activities, Murgittroyd advises The Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention team (SACI) and works with The Vagina Monologues’ cast, helping them to spread word about their annual production of the show and in turn raise money for various women’s organizations. “I think sexism is still very much alive and women are oppressed because of their gender and that’s not good for the world,” said Murgittroyd. “We need women as leaders … We need women leaders who embody feminism.” Perhaps one of the most admirable things about Murgittroyd is that her feminist values don’t end with women, she wants to help any group who needs it. “People who don’t have a voice or can’t find their voice or don’t have the resources to have quality time to find their voice,” she said. “It’s all about social justice.”
Emily Caswell is the Managing Editor of CAWLM. She has a passion for fun, family, friends, shopping sprees, cold drinks and Lansing.