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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Di Sanza

Kathi Vos: Interview

Updated: Aug 9, 2019

Name, pronouns, career/job title?

Kathleen (Kathi) E. Vos, Professor Emerita, Department of Youth Development, UW

Extension. I am currently the President of the Zonta Club of Madison which is part of Zonta

International. Our mission and vision is the following.

 Mission – Zonta International is a leading global organization of professionals

empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy.

 Vision – Zonta International envisions a world in which women's rights are recognized as human rights and every woman is able to achieve her full potential. In such a world, women have access to all resources and are represented in decision making positions on an equal basis with men. In such a world, no woman lives in fear of violence.

How has being a woman impacted your life thus far?

Being a woman has provided me with a rich array of strong female role models and a variety

of women who support, empower and inspire me. They range from my mother and sisters,

female colleagues, my college friends, to the 38 members in the Zonta Club of Madison. I seek out women who challenge and inspire me to mindfully life fully, as I create healthy habits that make a difference in our world.

How has being a women specifically impacted your career?

When I began my career as a 4-H & Youth Agent in Manitowoc County in 1976, I was part of the first wave of women to serve in this role. Up until the early 70’s, this role was considered a Junior Agriculture Agent position who then went on to become the County Ag Agent. Throughout my career, the tide turned, and women became the majority in UW-Extension’s Department of Youth Development. Throughout my entire 33-year career with UW- Extension, I always worked under the direction of a male State 4-H Program Director. As a full professor, they provided me the academic freedom to pursue innovative programs and initiatives, if it fell within the priorities of the 4-H Youth Development Program area and if there were funds and/or grants to support these efforts.

In your opinion, what are the most prominent challenges facing women today?

Poverty, lack of education and the support systems to succeed are the basic things that are

holding women back, along with the current toxic environment that has been created by “the

last gasp of the male patriarchal society” that has pervaded this state and country in recent


Work life balance has to be a big challenge for women at all ages and stages in their careers. I see this as a challenge for young professionals as well as retired professional women who are serving as full time volunteers. It has always been a challenge for working mothers, but is even more so today. People seem so overwhelmed and stressed out. Finding your center of calm in the middle of a storm is a challenge for all women.

In your opinion, what are the most prominent challenges facing underrepresented groups as a whole today? (i.e. racial minorities, those with physical and cognitive disabilities,

socioeconomically disadvantaged, etc.)

Lack of affordable health care, women’s economic security, violence against women, sexual

assault and human trafficking are some of the issues that the Zonta Club of Madison has

focused on in recent years. Currently Zonta International has an emphasis on eliminating

childhood marriage. Did you know that in Wisconsin, girls can be married at age 16 with the

consent of their parents?

How has the political and social climate of social justice changed throughout your lifetime?

In the 60’s and early 70’s it was all about civil rights and stopping the Vietnam war. Student

unrest on campus led the way, along with the rise in feminism. I still remember my first

“consciousness raising” session in Manitowoc around 1976. Judy Goldsmith, one of the

founding members of NOW (the National Organization of Women) lived in Manitowoc at that

time. In 1983 I moved back to Madison. The 80’s were spent getting tenure, getting married,

having a son, and establishing my career as a Youth Development Specialist. There was not

much time for politics. During my tenure with UW-Extension, I was under the Hatch Act which

limited my participating in any political activity while on the job, and at that time, my job was my life. Since retirement I have found my voice and personally participated in supporting

candidates of my choice through some door to door canvassing and phone bank work. LGBT

rights and the reignited Women’s movement, have accelerated. Hope was in the air, as we

participated the Women’s March in Madison on January 21, 2017. Still as politics becomes

more like reality TV every day, I wonder just where it is all taking us? I still believe in the power of the people, and that education is the key to empowering women and girls through service and advocacy, one person, one issue at a time. It is only through building strong partnerships around common issues, that will we truly make a difference.

What is of your utmost priority in terms of social justice and/ or politics currently?

Immigration issues (especially DACA), eliminating childhood marriage, women’s health and

violence against women’s issues.

Please describe your political and/ or social activism:

It took a while for my social activism to evolve. I grew up on a typical dairy farm in a German

Catholic community in Southeast Wisconsin where people generally worked hard, joined 4H, went to Friday Night Fish Fries and Sunday Mass. People worked hard, played hard and didn’t really get into politics, unless it affected their monthly milk check. At my Catholic High school, we were aware of social justice issues related to the needs of the poor and the handicapped. The bombing of Sterling Hall at UW-Madison in August 1970 set the stage for my social conscious awakening. During my time at UW-Madison as an undergraduate (1970-74) I was sympathetic to the antiwar movement and participated in candlelight peace marches. Boarded up windows on State Street and tear gas were part of campus life.

After working in Manitowoc County as a 4-H & Youth Agent, I moved back to Madison in1983 and never left. As a USDA Federal Employee, we were under the Hatch Act, which limited us from engaging in political activity while on the job. However, we were always strong advocates of issues related to positive youth development and were leaders in setting up statewide policies regarding youth protection in the 1980’s as well as advocating for affordable and quality child care for working mothers. Now as a retired faculty member, I have found my voice through my work with the Zonta Club of Madison. Although we are a Nonpartisan and a Nonsectarian organization, we become involved in women’s issues that have bearing on the mission and objectives of Zonta.

What do you encourage others to take part in, in order to make their communities more

socially and politically inclusive?

Empowering women through service and advocacy is my passion. I have been a member of

the Zonta Club of Madison’s Advocacy Committee from 2012-2018. During that time, we

worked with Zonta members from Janesville, Beloit and Milwaukee to provide training

workshops and legislative visits at the Capitol, and supported the Senegambia Women’s

Association International Women’s Day Celebration each March. James Madison Memorial

High School’s Women’s Club students, Phi U Honorary Society members from UW-Madison,

ARC House women, along with others from the area participated in training workshops and

legislative visits as part of our Zonta Advocacy initiatives. We partnered with the Wisconsin

Women’s Network, Wisconsin Alliance of Women’s Health, the Rape Crisis Center, End Abuse Wisconsin, UW-Madison’s Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE), SlaveFree Madison to provide training and legislative briefings on issues related to women’s health, sexual assault, human trafficking, violence against women, and women’s economic security. I am a strong proponent of building partnerships to move forward together on women’s issues of common concern.

Any final thoughts?

Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas. The advocacy work that young

women are doing today is so inspirational. Keep up the good work and let’s keep the

generations working together to empower women through service and advocacy!

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