AAUW Conference or Science March?

Last weekend I did not March for Science, although my heart was there. I had committed to attend a conference of the NY Branch of AAUW (American Association of University Women). Since part of this group’s mission these days is to help implement Title IX – a law that is a mandate for equality for girls in schools (sports, academic, safety) and since this includes encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) for girls through raising funds and providing support and oversight. I was, in a way, still “marching for science”.

AAUW also backs women at work and especially in university settings on issues like safety, equal opportunity, equal pay, and equal resources. It supports female students and faculty and has a legal fund to give it clout.

What I was reminded of is that there are women all over our nation who have studied and worked, for more than a century in this organization (since 1881), without any recognition beyond the admiration of their peers, on projects that affect educational opportunities for women and girls. I was in some very impressive company and I was just a beginner. These women had multiple degrees, often from prestigious colleges and universities and they had held an enormous variety of positions in educational, social, and governmental fields where they were able to provide services to woman and girls and anyone who needed someone to fight for their equality. Many of today’s members have done this for decades.

The schedule of events followed the template for most conferences. Everyone met for a business meeting that lasted until just before lunch on the first full day. After the budget was presented and the amendments to the bylaws were voted in we were introduced to a speaker, Louise Bernikow, who spoke about little known facts about women’s suffrage which we should all know. It was enlightening. I learned that the date I use for a women’s right to vote is wrong. I always say 1920 (which I got from the internet) but the actual date is 1917 (the year my mother was born).

We adjourned for a luncheon where awards were given to women who had donated generously to the organization and we had a speaker along with our dessert. The speaker was a woman from Yale, Susan Daria Landino, hired by the university to provide for student safety on campus until she tried to help a woman who came to her about a rape. The speaker reported the rape to the police who arrested the alleged rapist and after that she found herself in a world of trouble. She was ostracized and marginalized and eventually fired and escorted off campus, and so, also humiliated. Colleges do not like anyone to realize that their daughters might not be safe because it will hurt their bottom line and perhaps even bring eventual failure to the institution. This young woman had trouble finding another job and finally had to get a lawyer. AAUW, through its legal fund, helped her pay her legal fees, she got a settlement and her life turned right-side up once again. Good talk.

After lunch people were offered two sessions of workshops with several options to choose from in each session. The two sessions I attended were well worth giving up a Saturday for. Of course, by then the science march was over and so was any guilt I had felt about missing it.

AAUW used to be open to only women with a university background but has now opened up to any who want to support women’s rights and STEM programs for girls and who would find value in a nationwide community of women (and even some men) who support each other and stay in touch and fight for what is right. In these days when the rights of women seem to be under attack, when we may need to reengage in a fight that should already be won, this organization finds itself dying out. It needs a big injection of young energy to carry on the work of the wonderful women who fought so quietly and well. Many of these women are in their seventies and eighties and cannot do the work they once did (although they are still quite energetic and amazing). They are looking for younger women who will learn what they know before they have to retire from the organization and who will keep this important work alive. Please type AAUW into your favorite search engine, read more about the organization, and join this excellent group if you have something to offer.

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