NCCWSL 2012: Young Women Finding Our VoicesJune 01, 2012
This year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL), which sold out with nearly 600 attendees, is the most popular event in the conference’s history. There were hardly any empty seats at Thursday’s opening session, Finding Your Voice, which was led by Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, director of the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union. With Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” playing quietly in the background, young women from campuses across the United States took their seats and chatted animatedly with each other. After her warm, inspiring introduction, Stevens took the stage and conducted an hour-long, thought-provoking discussion on topics ranging from politics and the definition of feminism to reality TV and women in sports. With each question she threw out to the audience, Stevens received thoughtful, honest responses from a broad representation of college women.
There were a few ideas that almost everyone in the session agreed on: that reality TV does not advance the image of women, but that most of us love to watch it; that women do not get equal sports press compared with men; and that women should have the right to make their own reproductive choices. Participants voiced their opinions when it was time tackle what Stevens called “things that throw us out of whack.” Women all over the theater shouted out examples — mothers, late people, people who expect you to change your plans for them, finances, social media, and unreasonably high expectations. Clearly, the question struck a nerve.
At different points during the session, two women — one from Nigeria, the other Native American — commented on how NCCWSL has helped them break out of their cultural norms. They said that at home they were expected to undertake traditional womanly duties, such as cooking, cleaning, and being silent, while the men were taught strong leadership skills.
One question that sparked a debate was, “Do you think that women should be able to participate fully in the military?” Most of the audience said yes and gave reasons such as that women are just as physically capable as men. Others thought that since men are hardwired to protect women, more people would be put in danger in the long run if women were allowed to participate on an equal level. Others were fine with the idea but concerned with women’s ability to deal with the posttraumatic stress of war.
My important takeaway from the fantastic opening session? We must remember that we have mentors everywhere — from professors and coaches to Girl Scout leaders and social workers. These women and men might not even know that they are acting as our mentors, but when was the last time we thanked them? Think about it.
In the short time I’ve been at NCCWSL, I am already in awe of the many examples of my peers’ boldness and aspirations. Although Casey, a student from Bethlehem College, was told when she was young that “the trumpet is for boys,” she’s still playing the instrument today. Jessica, who attends Eastern University, aspires to be the governor of Michigan. There are some amazing women participating in this conference, and I am looking forward to connecting with them. Thursday was a challenging and exciting beginning to the conference, and the room buzzed with anticipation for the events to come! Follow #NCCWSL on Twitter, and join us — the next generation of women leaders!
This post was written by AAUW Membership Intern Taylor Blackwell.