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The Fight Against Bias On College Campuses

The American Association of University Women’s grant program helps campus groups solve social issues with creative programming.

The Fight Against Bias On College Campuses
[Photo: Flickr user Johnthan Speed]

Bria Hamlet has been on the receiving end of opposite stereotypes. When she talks about the challenges and biases women of color face on a daily basis, she has occasionally been written off as the “angry black woman.” But with other black people, she says her education and middle-class upbringing lead some to consider her, “whitewashed and not as much of an asset or a part of the black community because the sort of way that I’ve grown up,” she says.

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As president of the Women of Color Coalition at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the Health Administration & Policy Program major began talking about the stereotypes women of color face and how to help them overcome “micro-aggressions” and misguided perceptions that can inhibit women from asserting themselves for fear of being labeled. Calling out the stereotypes seemed like the best course of action, so the group created “Telling Our Stories: I’m Not/I Am,” which allows participants to express their own stories about being marginalized or stereotyped, being underestimated as women, or in facing bias in everything from dating to being expected to laugh off derogatory comments or even costumes. Using storytelling, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression, as well as workshops and other outreach, they hope to dismantle racist and sexist stereotypes.

Now, the program they developed has named one of 11 Campus Action Project grant winners for the 2014-2015 school year. Each program tackles some aspect of stereotype- and bias-busting, says Kate C. Farrar, vice president, Campus Leadership Programs AAUW.

Leaders of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Women of Color Coalition (from left): Susanna Campbell, vice president; Bria Hamlet, president; Bree Best, member-at-large; Safa Zahangir, treasurer.

The AAUW’s Campus Action Program began in 2005, with a vision to “bring AAUW research to life,” Farrar says. Each year, the AAUW gives $50,000, divided up among roughly a dozen student teams working to create change on campuses and in communities across the country. Students’ teams work with AAUW research to create an action plan. The leader from each team is invited to and hosted by the 2015 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, on May 28 through 30 at the University of Maryland, College Park to present the team’s project. This year, the project is funded by Pantene.

Shawna Clayton’s team at West Virginia Wesleyan College targets pay equity, an issue that hits close to home for many women there. Within the university’s WE LEAD Peer Council, she serves on a committee that identifies ways to empower women and young people in the community. When it comes to gender-based pay equity, West Virginia ranks 49th in the U.S.

When Clayton’s team learned about the CAP grant, they saw a way to fund a program that could make a difference for the ambitious young women on their campus. The grant will fund a speaker series, copies of Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In to be distributed to more than 40 participants, and a mentorship program that pairs participants with successful women in the community. The goal is to help women learn what it takes to be more successful and better negotiate for what they need.

“We really wanted to make sure that these women that are on our campus had an opportunity to not only learn about the stereotypes and biases that they’ll face when they leave college but also know how to kind of take up a defense against it,” Clayton says.

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Other programs include helping women move forward in STEM careers at Napa Valley College in Napa, California; sexual assault prevention at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; and considering career options that defy gender trends at the University of Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa, among others.

Farrar says AAUW looks for teams that will engage with the campus and community in a broad way, not just producing a program, but trying to reach out to new audiences and help people think about the latest AAUW research. She says they value programs that are diverse in nature and develop innovative techniques like the varied artistic expression in “I’m Not/I Am” or the mentorship component of WE LEAD’s group.

“The program does two important things. It highlights and showcases the real equity issues that still exist on our campuses. And it allows college women and men to be leaders in really experiential ways in making a difference on their campuses,” Farrar says.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.

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