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Ball State University professor and local women’s project work to write ‘Muncie Women: A to Z’ children’s book

By Arianna Lessner, The Daily News | Published on in The Daily News
Director of Ball State Disability Services Courtney Jarrett poses for a photo Feb. 29 at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center. Jarrett is the author of “Muncie Women: A to Z,” a children’s book about important past and present women in the Muncie community. Mya Cataline, DN

They’re integral to our society — mothers, wives, sisters, friends. Women do important things every day, just like everyone else.

Unfortunately, women often fall through the cracks when it comes to recognition. Courtney Jarrett is trying to change that with “Muncie Women: A to Z,” her new children’s book about important past and present women in the Muncie community.

Jarrett, a history major at Ball State University in 2004, was learning for the first time about women who often did important things behind the scenes without recognition, and it frustrated her.

“When I came to college, I didn’t really know anything about [women and gender studies]. I didn’t know the word ‘feminism’ until that point,” Jarrett said. “I’ve learned about a lot of presidents and a lot of wars and random people, but it was just a little bit disheartening to me that it took until being a junior in college before I got to know [about these women].”

Now the director of Ball State Disability Services and an affiliate faculty member of the women, gender and African American studies department, Jarrett is now in a position where she can make sure other children do not grow up unaware as she did. Though it proved to be difficult, she chose to write stories of notable women in the form of a children’s book to teach kids about the same kind of women in their own community.

Jarrett used this opportunity to give recognition to the women who built the Muncie community and those who currently support it. “Muncie Women: A to Z” tells the story of 26 women in Muncie’s history, both past and present, who have impacted the community in some way.

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Courtney Jarrett, Graphic provided; Meghan Holt, DN Design

“I have a different woman that I’ve written about whose last name corresponds with one of the letters of the alphabet,” she said. “I want the women to be recognized and known for the work that they’re doing to make Muncie and Delaware County and Ball State, in some instances, a better place to be and live,” Jarrett said.

The small things people do for others can be just as impactful as the large things that make people go down in history. Those who built communities, both literally and figuratively, affect daily lives. Unfortunately, credit isn’t always given where credit is due, which Jarrett aims to change with her book.

“The underlying theme of the book is that none of these women really sought out to [have] celebrity status,” she said. “They’re really just quietly volunteering or doing work in our community that supports other people and raises awareness and does all kinds of things, and that’s just as important as somebody who is President of the United States or won a big battle.”

For example, Elizabeth Agnew, who teaches religious studies at Ball State, worked in Middle Eastern countries. She helped spread awareness about women’s issues and religious freedom in places where this education is rare to come by. Specifically, she encourages student engagement with the Islamic Center of Muncie and works with the Ball State Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.

“​Building bridges that connect academic and community learning has been a valuable aspect of my work at Ball State — for me and for the student​s with whom I’ve worked,” Agnew said via email.

Christy Blanche not only owns Aw Yeah Comics, a comic store on Charles Street but writes comics and graphic novels herself, in addition to interviewing all kinds of celebrities at Comic-Con. She was even friends with Stan Lee.

As role models, Blanche looked up to Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley and Diana Prince. Even though fictional, these women had a large impact on her — not larger than her mother’s, though, who supported Blanche’s dreams and always believed in her.

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A poster of the history of women in a timeline Feb. 29 at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center. Jarrett had a lot of women’s history posters around her office. Mya Cataline, DN

“It’s an amazing honor [to be featured in ‘Muncie Women: A to Z’]. It means even more now that I have grandchildren that I adore, and they can read it,” Blanche said via email. “I hope somehow it may inspire them or at least make them proud.”

Jarrett even leaves space for the women we don’t know about, give recognition to or who she did not have the space to write about. “Jane X” is left as a placeholder to draw attention to the women who are lost to history, which we will never know about because those who lived at their time did not think they were significant enough to immortalize.

Unfortunately, this mindset still plagues women’s minds.

Jessica Bergfors, DN Illustration

“I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘Why me? Why are you picking me?’” Jarrett recalled. “For that reason –that you think that the things you do every day aren’t important or meaningful.”

This mindset may be passed on to future generations as well if the lack of representation for women in the media continues.

According to humanium.org, the way children perceive the world is largely affected by the media they consume. They learn to understand their reality by the way it is represented in the media. If children never see people who look or act like them in the media, they may see themselves in a more negative light.

“For instance, research shows that a lack of representation in media can lead to negative psychological outcomes for those with identities that are underrepresented or negatively portrayed,” humanium.org shows.

Not only does Jarrett make information available about the women in Muncie, but by aiming this book toward children, she also provides a way for young girls all over Delaware County to see themselves as impactful women from their own hometown.

“In our world, we seem to hear a lot about male accomplishments, so I do think it’s very important for books like this to exist,” Blanche said via email. “Especially in that these are local women that these children can meet or possibly even know already!”

Contact Arianna Lessner with comments at arianna.lessner@bsu.edu.