Students Seek to Address Gender Stereotypes through AAUW Grant

Friday, January 9th, 2015

The WE LEAD Women & Youth Empowerment team, a student-led group in West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Center for Community Engagement & Leadership Development, recently received a grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) with support from the Pantene Shine Strong Campaign.  The Community Action Program (CAP) Grants, were awarded to students on 11 campuses nationally for “the opportunity to put their ideas into action and put an end to tired, old biases and stereotypes” around gender.

The student leadership team has named the initiative WISE—Women’s Initiative to Support Equality.  The purpose of the semester-long WISE program is to bring confidence, innovation, and inspiration to a cohort of up to 40 college women in order to break stereotypes and biases; to encourage self-esteem and hope in the workplace; and to grow a movement of leaders to break social norms and ensure gender equality.  The participating college women will be educated through book discussion circles, mentoring relationships with local successful women, a speaker series, a salary and benefit negotiation workshop, and a campus screening of the gender inequality film, Miss Representation. The cohort of women will then apply their new confidence and knowledge by developing workshops for community youth groups.  These children will be inspired to pursue their dreams despite perceived gender biases in certain career fields, as they see modeled by their college mentors.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the ambition of the student leadership team—Shawna Clayton, Coral Dean, Morgan Downing, and Briana Shockey—for tackling such a big issue,” said Katie Loudin, coordinator in the Center for Community Engagement & Leadership Development.  “They had no grantwriting experience previously and worked very hard to design a project that has the potential to be very transformational for their peers.  They sought input from a number of WVWC staff and faculty while writing the proposal and are looking forward to building momentum on campus around addressing issues of gender biases and stereotypes wherever they occur—in their personal lives, on campus, and in their future areas of employment.”

The CAP grants are selected by the American Association of University Women, an organization that has been empowering women as individuals and as a community since 1881.  AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.  Biases against women in professional settings can be seen through wage inequality, and West Virginia women prove to be at an even higher disadvantage than women in other parts of the country.  According to the AAUW website, West Virginia ranks 49th in the country in terms of the gender wage gap, with the US Census Bureau citing that West Virginia women make, on average, only 69 cents on the dollar when compared with their male counterparts. Additionally, WVWC is situated in the congressional district with the largest wage gap in the state.

The WISE project student leadership team is accepting applications from all currently enrolled WVWC women, with priority consideration being given to junior- and senior-level students.  Additionally, the leadership team is seeking connections to potential female mentors within the community who would be willing to meet occasionally (once or twice per month) with a small group and correspond electronically with program participants.  If you or someone you know is interested in becoming involved with this program in either capacity, please e-mail Katie Loudin at loudin_k@wvwc.edu as soon as possible.