Bikini Kill Inspired Activism—AAUW Sustained It
This summer, we are catching up with former members of the AAUW National Student Advisory Council, the exclusive group of college women who advise AAUW on student issues and help plan the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. Donnae Wahl served on the 2009–10 SAC while studying political science at the University of Northern Colorado. She is now a graduate student at the State University of New York, Albany.
You have worked for years on both women’s rights and politics. When did you first discover your passion for these issues?
I was really young, probably around junior high or high school. I had read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. I listened to music like Bikini Kill. That was my first awakening. I’ve always been interested in politics; I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. I’ve worked on campaigns since I was 14. I was pretty young when all of these things merged for me.
How did you discover feminist music?
We moved to northern Idaho when I was 10 or 11. There was all this great music coming out. Nirvana was pretty big, and a lot of the girls in my school listened to them. I started listening to them. I became obsessed with the things they brought up, like rape culture or how girlhood is frowned upon. I really identified with what they were saying, especially with Bikini Kill.
You served on the SAC, interned at AAUW, and worked with Elect Her–Campus Women Win on your campus. What made you want to continue your work with AAUW?
I think AAUW is a great organization, and the people involved are amazing. I think that what AAUW does with Elect Her and $tart $mart is absolutely wonderful just because it helps women find their voice and space.
You got to help plan the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders when you were on the SAC. What were your favorite moments during your NCCWSL experience?
It was everything. I heard this speaker who talked about women of color and feminism. She was talking about how feminism for women of color was really important. I thought that was fantastic. Hearing Shelby Knox speak was amazing. I had just watched The Education of Shelby Knox before she came. I thought it was so wonderful. It was an amazing time. I think of it as one of the highlights of my life after college.
What are some of the leadership lessons and skills you learned while serving on the SAC and being involved in AAUW?
The main thing I learned is how having a consensus is so important to what we do, especially with feminist activism. It was weird transitioning to a job at a financial institution because it wasn’t feminist like AAUW. It’s important in activism to have multiples voices at the table. AAUW does such an amazing job of doing that.
You’re now a grad student in women’s studies and public policy. What made you choose those fields?
I couldn’t do anything else. I really feel passionate about it. It impacts everything I do — even the books I read and the movies I watch. When women are portrayed in a stereotypical way, I’ll notice it. The choice to go into women’s studies and public policy was a natural decision. I love it. I couldn’t see myself studying anything different.
What were your goals in going to grad school?
My goal is a Ph.D. It was then, and it is now. I would like to be able to teach women’s studies at the college level. I would also like to teach it at the high school level, but with budget cuts that’s a little more difficult to do.
Have you ever considered running for political office?
Yeah I have. That’s definitely something I could see in my future. I would like to probably run at the local level.
This post was written by AAUW College/University Relationships Intern Mabinty Quarshie.