April 2, 2024

Ophelia Chambliss


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York College’s CCE Kicks Off Understanding Gender Series with Glass Ceiling Exhibit

The Glass Ceiling exhibit at the Center for Community Engagement features 12 portraits painted by 12 different artists.

Ophelia Chambliss hears it from female students on a regular basis. They might have been treated a certain way or struggled to accomplish something, but they didn’t necessarily know it was a glass ceiling that was holding them back.

“The term really became known in my generation,” she says. “We think we’ve made a lot of headway when it comes to gender equality, but we just had our first female vice president this year. We have a lot of glass ceilings that still need to be broken.”

That road to breaking glass ceilings—a phrase used to describe the invisible barriers that many women face in society—was the theme of The Glass Ceiling exhibit that launched earlier this year at York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE).

As an artist-in-residence, Chambliss organized the 12 artists who painted 12 portraits of different women in the York community, many from different professions and backgrounds. “It opened up people’s eyes to the many women we see in this community, but may never have known their stories for how they got to where they are,” Chambliss says. “Those stories matter because we can see ourselves in their shoes. We can know we’re not alone.”

An important message

They are designers, poets, restauranteurs, and lawyers. They have served in government, the church, and their communities. They represent not only their career titles, but their journeys.

When Chambliss went to task organizing the 12 artists and their subjects, she provided them all with a canvas, a basic concept, and parameters for size and orientation. The rest was up to the creative vision of the painters.

“I love each of these portraits because you see the approach of each artist,” Chambliss says. “I was familiar with some of these artists and their work, but they all did something unique. Some brought out techniques I hadn’t seen them use before. Each one made me proud.”

Beyond the final product of the portraits, the thing that surprised Chambliss the most was the power of a multimedia approach to the project. Video recordings from women in the community also were captured and played during opening night of the exhibit at the CCE. Their stories made people stop and listen. Their experiences were powerful.

“I want people to be aware that the glass ceiling still exists,” Chambliss says. “It’s thicker in some places. It’s still holding some people back.”

More to come

While “The Glass Ceiling” exhibit was a successful event and will be on display at the CCE through the end of May 2022, it’s just the beginning of important topics the College will tackle.

“We are intentional about using our space to bring students into the community and connect them with the people and resources that exist in York,” says Karin Swartz, Assistant Dean, CCE. “This exhibit was a great way to learn about women in York who are known as being active members of our community, but maybe we haven’t had the opportunity to dig deeper.”

Those stories are just the beginning of what the CCE hopes will be a yearlong opportunity to step into a theme called Understanding Gender. While the initial idea was to focus on women, it was important for the College to help educate people beyond binary definitions.

“Gender seems like a simple concept, but it really isn’t,” Swartz says. “It impacts so much of our lives, and it’s important we look at it through different lenses.”

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