The American Association for Women in Community Colleges is the leading national organization that champions women and maximizes their potential.
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The top hip hop song this week is "Here" by 19-year old Alessia Cara. Often we associate misogynistic lyrics and profanity with the hip hop genre, and complain that it should be banned from the airwaves. But the success of "Here" proves that hip hop can be much more when it's used to capture and express the feelings of the average youth growing up. No thug life references or cursing to prove a point in this song. "Here" is a contemplative composition that reminds me of the 1975 hit "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian.
The song's lyrics and music video both speak to the often conflicted loneliness of young women on our college campuses. The principle character in the drama has realized that she has taken the wrong road which has put her in a situation that she is trying to wish away. Her "friends" have abandoned her at a party and she is left to wander around on her own as a disillusioned and disgusted voyeur, watching party-goers as they attempt to imitate the hipster lifestyle.
She desperately laments while soberly walking through the crowd of drunken "beautiful" people, "I ask myself what am I doing here?
Oh oh oh here oh oh oh here, And I can't wait till we can break up outta here."
But the real question is what is stopping her from leaving? The real travesty of this song is that it makes clear that we still have far to go in building self confidence in our young women to enable them to break away from the group and get out of a bad situation. Our young women may have tougher stances and use more saltier language than previous generations, but they still feel the pressure to assimilate.
Peer pressure, mean girls, model envy are all still alive and well in the land of growing up female. This weekend I witnessed three high school female organizations perform sketches about their lives. It was crushing to sit on the front row and realize these young ladies are still battling with the same issues that I dealt with in the 70's.
An independent voice, look, or style is still not celebrated. Group think trounces any spirit of individualism. And often, these same girls will find themselves, just like I did, wondering with seemingly no way out, "What am I doing here?"
Growing up as a young woman can be one of the most joyous and heartbreaking experiences – that sometimes transpires from one to the next in a moment's time. As our young women enter our college campuses, we must remember the importance of providing them with relationships and experiences that build their sense of identity. Our young female students need tangible and non-tangible personal networks stacked with interactions that motivate and build self-confidence.
There has been a shooting on campus. These words (that are, unfortunately, commonplace today) were first said to me as a 25-year old residence hall graduate assistant returning to the sophomore female dorm I managed one Saturday morning. Pinpricks became daggers to my heart as I listened to the description of what had happened. “The front desk clerk that worked overnight in __________ Hall was accosted by a man as she attempted to walk home to her dorm. She broke free after he grabbed her. As she attempted to run away, he shot her in the back. She is in intensive care.”
My mind was filled with grief and blame; my front desk clerk was fighting for her life and where was I? I had had enough of sophomore residence hall life and decided to escape one night to a friend’s house to regroup and rejuvenate. Around 10 pm I called to make a cursory check on the front desk, really just to relieve my mind that everything was going fine so I could relax and enjoy my night off. Surprisingly, the wrong voice answered the front desk phone. The female voice that said hello was of a young lady that lived in another dorm. I thought, “Why is she working? Our rules say that only students who live in the dorm can work the night shift.” As I questioned her, I heard about the party that everyone wanted to attend that night, except her. She was helping her fellow team members out by allowing everyone to have a great Friday night. I wanted to have a great Friday night too, so I ignored the rule and agreed it was okay. It was already 10 pm and her shift would end at midnight--what could possibly happen in two hours? I hung up, and without a thought of reticence or hesitancy, I proceeded to engage in a wonderful night of fun.
The next morning, I made my way back to campus, ready to support the development of female sophomores attending the university. They were such a tough group to work with and inspire. But that morning I was psyched up to take on the challenge. Hope plummeted to despair when I saw police and yellow caution tape surrounding the residence hall. The year was 1987--before cell phones, Clery, VAWA, and persistent gun violence on campuses. This was unfathomable.
We didn’t know what to do, so we (the college) did nothing. No counselors were deployed. No visits to the hospital. No flowers were sent…not even a card. No one talked about it. It was as if we didn’t speak about it, then it didn’t really happen. Normalcy was our only goal and on face value I guess we succeeded.
But true normalcy was elusive. The desk clerk survived, but the emotional scars were profound. The residence hall environment was filled with sadness, guilt, and blame. We replayed the events that led to the incident in our own heads, questioning ourselves. What if we would have done things differently that night? Whose fault was this truly? Everyone followed the front desk rules after that night, more out of trying for a do-over than any real new thought of accountability.
One of the most infamous and disturbing moments during my undergraduate experience was waking up to the phone call that a freshman had a train run on her by some fraternity members. What is a "train run" you ask? It was a term used to describe when a woman was fooled, coerced, or forced to have sex with several men one after the other.
The year was 1983. This was before Clery and Title IX.
I remember that the first thing that went through my mind was whether or not my then boyfriend, who was a member of that fraternity, was involved. It was later reported that he was not at the fraternity house that night. I was relieved. But then my relief turned to dismay. How could this have happened?
The young woman desperately wanted to be in the fraternity's all-female auxiliary. So, she was pledging the auxiliary. (Note: It was against the rules for fraternities to pledge these type of groups. Female auxiliary group members were supposed to be able to just join.)
Late that night some of the fraternity members called her and asked her to come to the fraternity house. When she arrived she was shocked to find that her line sisters were not present. The fraternity members told her that there was one more pledge task that each line sister had to complete before becoming a member – they would have to have sex with every frat brother. She would be the first and was expected to have sex with each one of them that night if she was going to be initiated. After she completed the "task", the fraternity members laughed at her and said that she would never be initiated because she was a whore. They then told her to get dressed and threw her out of the house. Humiliated, she left college early the next morning never to return that year.
Although probably every African American attending the college got a similar phone call that morning, no one told anyone outside of our circle. The only repercussion for the fraternity members were the disgusted, sideway looks they got from those of us that knew what they had done. We wondered out loud how or why she thought this would be a part of an initiation process, and we chalked up her vulnerability to being a freshman. And then we went on experiencing our everyday lives on a college campus.
It is hard to believe that sexual violence is still present on college campuses today; and that our female students are still letting go of their dreams and goals due to these unwanted – and criminal -- actions. Now, thanks to those that have championed the Clery Act, Title IX, and VAWA, the silence is no longer deafening when these despicable acts occur. The AAWCC National Board has adopted "Increasing
Suddenly there was no air. I could see his mouth moving, but there was no sound. What did he say? My mind felt like I was trapped in some sort of third dimension that left you somewhere between reality and a really bad dream. What did he say? Come on, Beverly, focus. Pay attention.
One morning in the hotel I felt a lump in my nipple. It was in such an odd place so I immediately called the doctor's office from Seattle. I am sure when she looked at my records – clear mammogram, clean bill of health in February – she thought this is just another one of Beverly's lump in breast scares. (I have had lumpy breasts since I was an undergrad at Oklahoma State University.) So, she didn't immediately agree to see me. She put me in the rotation.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Please increase your knowledge and awareness of this potentially devastating disease.
I was heartbroken to receive the news that Dr. Mildred Beatrice Bulpitt, Founder of AAWCC and Leaders Institute, passed away on August 21. Although I never had the honor of meeting her in person, I believe I had begun to know her intimately through her interviews and writings. I didn't fully understand her greatness until I was asked to speak about women in community colleges at the Michigan Community College Association's Summer Workshop. Through the research, I found a new person to celebrate and appreciate! Dr. Bulpitt’s courage, persistence, and moxie captured my inner being. I now understood what great sacrifices had been made so that I could sit in the president’s chair. For that, I will always cherish Mildred, and the multitude of other unknown individuals, that came before me and made a courageous stand for equality in community colleges.
Dr. Bulpitt was a warrior to the end. Long after she retired, she continued to encourage women to have the confidence to move to the head of the line and take the reins of leadership gallantly. I am pleased that she lived to see the fruits of her labor as the number of female community college presidents has increased from approximately 50 in 1980 (when the Leaders Institute began) to 344 in 2015.
Today, I challenge us to remember Dr. Bulpitt and her important work by increasing the number of women in key decision-making roles at every community college. We need to work together to push females through the leadership pipeline and be intentional about moving the needle. Dr. Bulpitt's legacy, and her spirit, remains in all of us. Let's continue what she started!
In 1998, I was a recently divorced, single parent of a six-year old living far away from home in Spokane, Washington. Spokane Community College's Vice President for Student Services, Dan Chacon, had hired me as the Single Parent Counselor in 1995 and had tasked me with creating a program that would retain and graduate the approximately 1000 single parents that attended the college.