Pacific student a trailblazer for women in the military
University of the Pacific doctoral student Antwanisha Williamson received a California Veterans Trailblazer award for her dedication to the very topic she plans to address in her dissertation: creating pathways for women to have successful military careers.
Williamson recently was honored with one of six Trailblazer awards presented by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. She is working on her EdD as part of the inaugural cohort of Benerd College’s Transformative Action in Education program.
Williamson spent 18 years in the United States Navy and earned both Air Warfare and Surface Warfare qualifications. She raised funds for women, children and homeless veterans and also competed in the Ms. Veterans America event.
In addition, she served on the San Joaquin County Veterans Commission and the NAACP’s Armed Services Committee.
“Women in our military have long demonstrated courage in times of peril, leadership in the most crucial moments, and the resolve to overcome any obstacle in their paths,” said CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani. “We at CalVet are privileged to honor these extraordinary women veterans from California who have blazed trails not only for themselves, but for future generations.”
Williamson said she is “very humbled” by the award and that it inspires her to continue her work.
She is developing a theory titled: “Military Feminism Theory: The Power Dynamics of Working Within a Male Dominant Culture” that she plans to make a central part of her dissertation. Williamson said it is essential for women in the military to know there are resources they can use.
For instance, Williamson said women are not always given information on all positions for which they might qualify when considering enlistment. She also calls height and weight regulations for women “particularly barbaric,” and says some physical metrics used are “straight out of the 1800s.” Williamson adds that women are sometimes penalized when returning to active duty after pregnancies.
“I am trying to empower women so they can get the utmost out of their military careers,” Williamson said. “In many if not most cases, they have to be proactive.
“These also are some of the areas I am planning to delve into with my studies at Pacific. I am combining radical feminism and critical race theory,” she said. “My theory is only in its infancy, but I plan to refine it. The goal is to empower women to seek the utmost out of their military careers, and it starts with knowing the opportunities available.”
One day of her service remains etched in Williamson’s mind: as a 19-year-old, after only one week of deployment in the Mideast, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks happened.
“Everyone remembers where they were that day, and the memories are vivid for me,” the Stockton native said. “We immediately were in Afghanistan in the role of first responders. Those days always will stay with me. In some ways, they shaped me.
“Originally I was scared, not for myself but for everyone who was back state side. I knew there were multiple terrorist events and we were not sure if and when they were going to stop. It honestly empowered me to play my role in the military and do my part. I was only 19 and it gave me a whole new perspective on what serving my country really meant.”
Now retired from the Navy after a career that included four overseas deployments, Williamson applies the same dedication she had during her service to her studies.
“One of the best things about Antwanisha is she’s committed to the things in which she believes,” Benerd College Professor and Program Lead Laura Hallberg said. “Her work with veterans, the NAACP and other groups is genuine. She is aware of the needs of people, particularly those who are not recognized in the ways she thinks they should be.
“She is a Navy veteran, and my daughter joined the Navy last year, so we have connected. Her desire to support women in the military has been overwhelming. She gets me excited about the work we do and the program. I can always count on her to be insightful and thoughtful.”
Williamson said it is important to convey information about challenging the system to women in the military or those considering a career in the armed forces.
“Advocacy is such an important part of my role, I believe,” she said. “Many don’t realize that the opportunity is there to challenge the system. Through my work with the military, the NAACP and my studies at Pacific, I remain dedicated to helping others.”
Williamson said her family gives her the strength to continue her work. She is the mother of two girls (Gia, 10, and Gizelle, 9), one of six siblings and the oldest of 36 grandchildren. Her fiancé Bertony is a 12-year military veteran who owns a private security company.
She lives in southern California, commuting once per month for the in-class portion of her hybrid doctoral program. She has an interview scheduled for a veterans’ related new job in Stockton and hopes to move back to her hometown soon.
Her advice for women interested in exploring military careers?
“Despite some of the issues, the military is a land of opportunity for women,” Williamson said. “Don’t be closed minded. Ask a lot of questions. And it is very important to find a mentor who can help guide you as you move forward into your career.”