Next June, University of Michigan-Dearborn students and peers will be heading to the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders at the University of Maryland for the eighth time! NCCWSL—the acronym is pronounced “Nick Whistle” — is the premier event for college women who want to seek leadership roles. Participants represent more than 280 institutions of higher learning. They’re diverse. They’re ambitious. They’re activists. After attending, the vast majority of participants reported feeling more confident about taking initiatives to improve their campus or community.
Dr. Monica Porter, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success, stated that the first year UM-D became involved, 2009, just she and two students attended. Impressed by what she saw taking place, she returned from the conference determined to grow student involvement. She was determined to send a busload of students. This year UM-D sent two buses with sixty students, representing 13 colleges and universities to the conference! That’s pretty phenomenal success. What is even more astonishing is that UM-D students did not have to pay any registration fees this year! Donations from AAUW-MI, AAUW-Dearborn and various faculty and campus initiatives, along with student fund raising, took care of the costs.
After Dr. Porter’s initial foray, Lee Savage, Program Manager for the Women’s Resource Center, accompanied students to NCCWSL for the next six years. She has seen tremendous changes occur in the students who attend. “It is so impactful that it can actually improve students’ academic achievements.” She adds that one participant indicated she had found, “the confidence to know she could follow her passion as an undergraduate. It’s seeing that kind of spark that makes NCCWSL so significant for me.” For some students, it is their first trip out of state. It is their first experience on the campus of a residential college. It is thrilling to visit the nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C., with all its grandeur and iconography.
Shareia Carter, Director of the Women’s Resource Center, added that one of the most gratifying aspects of the experience is that the participants become well aware of the importance of “giving back to campus and community. It is always refreshing to see theory transform into practice in higher education.” For example, one group of returning students started an American Association of University Women Student Organization on the UM-D campus, the first in the nation!
At a luncheon designed to illuminate the NCCWSL experience this past week, four student panelists who had attended this year were the featured speakers. All four participants did an outstanding job articulating issues and attitudes involving gender equity today. Clearly, their experiences were valuable and transformational! Members of AAUW who were present felt genuine pride as the realization dawned that programs sponsored by their organization are making genuine changes in this country and across the globe when it comes to expectations of equity for women.
Gay Johnson, a middle-aged, non-traditional student at UM-D, was the first panelist to speak. A natural-born storyteller, she regaled everyone with the challenges of staying in a dormitory with communal bathrooms and modest furnishings when her life experience has been being educated on primarily a commuter campus. In a more serious vein, she shared how impressive the addresses and awardees were. All were inspirational women leaders in business, politics and academics. Gay relished the practical advice shared about learning how to manage career goals and job searches. Her own aspirations shifted at NCCWSL when she realized that working for the State Department could provide fascinating, challenging employment, along with the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world to live and work.
Dalya Hazim is a student at Schoolcraft College majoring in biology. She plans to attend medical school eventually. She noted her gratitude to the AAUW-Northville branch for providing her a scholarship to attend NCCWSL. Her favorite part of the conference was listening to the two keynote speakers. One spoke about sexual assault, and Dalya indicated that it awakened a realization within her, “If this is not happening around me does not mean that it is not happening. We have an obligation to others who have endured such things.” Dalya Hazim has already proved that she has been empowered and has ramped up her leadership skills. Upon her return from NCCWSL, she applied to become a member of the national AAUW Student Advisory Council.
According to the national AAUW website, “Each year, 10 college student leaders from all over the country are chosen to serve on the National Student Advisory Council (SAC) based on their leadership potential and commitment to gender equity. Throughout the year, the SAC members advise AAUW on the needs of college students and organize feminist activist projects on campus. They also serve as peer leaders at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) and play an integral role in planning and promoting the conference. The 2015–16 SAC are a unique group of passionate volunteers, mentors, and world travelers, but most important, they’re fierce advocates for social change. They are committed to women’s leadership and empowerment through their work to spread body positivity, demand reproductive justice, and end sexual violence. The multilingual, multifaceted SAC are our future physicians, policy makers, community organizers, and leaders in business.
“Dalya Hazim was born and raised in Iraq, which gave her the opportunity to
compare the advantages and struggles women face both in the United States and
abroad. Hazim believes in giving opportunities to young women to lead in their own
communities. She currently attends Schoolcraft College in Michigan, where she
volunteers with service projects that support underrepresented populations through
the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.”
Mawj Mohammed is studying political science and philosophy at UM-D. She is active in politics on campus. She was grateful to receive a full ride for the conference as she would have had to take time off from work and suffered loss of income too in order to attend. In witty fashion, she said that perhaps the hardest part of attending was suffering “jet lag from the bus.”
One anecdote she shared was about gaining a new insight into diction and how it affects individuals in unique ways. In one session, the moderator asked everyone to indicate whether or not they were feminists. Mawj indicated that about 98% of the attendees considered themselves to be so, while another 2% felt the word negated themselves in some fashion. Some participants preferred the word, “humanist.” Some persons of color indicated they felt a measure of dictation about choices that should be freely made, i.e. the freedom to wear attire that others might judge negatively. She explained, “Feminism is a very broad term that I didn’t know people take so personally.”
Mawj Mohammed’s family moved to this country from Iraq. She has become a naturalized citizen and said, “It was weird being in Washington, D.C. as a refugee from Iraq, now a citizen, surrounded by all that power and decision making.”
N’Kenge Gonzalez has always seen herself as a strong, even rebellious, spirit. She is a senior at UM-D and explained that attending was like learning to unlock doors with all the skills of a locksmith. NCCWSL emboldened her so much that she is now the student liaison for another AAUW initiative on campus, Elect-Her, which aims to teach the skills necessary to assume leadership and eventually run for office. She provided a number of examples of skills she had learned, everything from crafting a succinct message to making “it” happen. Women of distinction attain their levels of achievement via clear goals, clear messages and clear plans. N’Kenge has just been named to the AAUW-MI Student Advisory Council, which is modeled upon the National Student Advisory Council.
Ellen Judge-Gonzalez, lecturer in communications on the campus as well as being Director of the Student Outreach and Academic Resources (SOAR) Program for non-traditional students, summed up the significance of NCCWSL by declaring: “It is transformative! Students return bubbling with enthusiasm. They are empowered and determined. NCCWSL changes the trajectory of their goals. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Clearly, the conference is one of the three, most significant, annual events on this campus.” Happily for AAUW-Dearborn, Ellen Judge-Gonzalez also serves as the program vice-president for the branch.
For those interested in learning more about NCCWSL, contact Lee Savage at 313-583-6445 or go to <www.nccwsl.org> .