By Courtney Hammett ‘19
In May 2018, Converse alumna Susan Byrnes Long ‘o4 launched a podcast that had been years in the making. How She Got Here was borne of personal and political turmoil and the eternal question: How do I get from hoping to doing my part to make the world better? The first thing she did was to become quiet and still, and ask herself what she would do if money were no issue.
With the help of retired Converse professor Dr. Melissa Walker, Susan explored the largely-unknown history of women in America. From there, she decided to create a platform which would boost women’s stories to “empower and inspire other women.” She calls this “the transformative power of stories.” Everyday women can be influential, she says, and “you don’t have to be Oprah or Ellen to make a difference.” But in order to do that, she also believes we need to be vulnerable with ourselves. In explaining why we still need women’s stories, Susan says, “We have to learn to love ourselves, for who we are and who we were born to be.”
Everyday women can be influential; you don’t have to be Oprah or Ellen to make a difference.
I mentioned the growing diversity of the podcast guests, prompting Susan to give me “the skinny:” “I’m a white, cisgender, straight woman.” She describes herself as not at the top rung of privilege, but pretty close. One failure of the first wave of feminism, she says, is that early suffragettes didn’t make room at the table for women of color, let alone the various demographics of our modern world. This is why she tries to be purposeful about diversity of all kinds, from socioeconomic class to race to gender/sexual orientation.
Once Vicki, Susan’s web designer, suggested transcribing podcast episodes for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community, a great opportunity arose to outsource transcription labor to women—accessibility and job creation! Even for women outside of the workforce, Susan encourages us to examine class privilege. “How much are you paying your babysitter or housekeeper?” she asks.
Susan says she wants to “stand with other women, learn from them, advocate with them,” and she adds, “Maybe that’s the Converse sisterhood in me.” A Business/Marketing major, Susan got to express her passion for history and politics through serving as a delegate for the South Carolina Student Legislature. Wistfully, she calls Converse her home away from home. She says she’ll never forget stepping on the campus the first time, and feeling a sense of empowerment each subsequent time. It’s a sense of sisterhood, or of “women just being badasses!” It was easy to take college for granted–she assumed the world would be as welcoming as Converse. “We’re just not there yet,” she says, and won’t be in her lifetime.
She calls Converse her home away from home.
What will real equality look like? “When we no longer have to celebrate milestones, like the first Black woman to do this or the first woman to do that,” says Susan. And it certainly won’t look like the political climate of 2016, which inspired Susan to march in Austin, Texas on inauguration day. We both felt a sense of empowerment knowing Converse sisters marched at the same time, in different time zones. “Converse made a feminist out of me,” she said, and gave her a push of confidence to say enough is enough.
When asked her advice for current students, Susan suggests studying something you love, because it’s hard to be successful in a field you don’t enjoy. Borrowing from Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), she says: “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.” You will go through many seasons in life–college student, mother, career-driven, etc. (Susan started a podcast while parenting her toddler!) Embrace the moment, and find your place among the great women of history.
You can catch the latest episodes of How She Got Here at https://howshegothere.com/.