For nearly a decade, Goshen College has been a member of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The AAUW is an organization that empowers women by advocating for gender equity in educational, social, economic and political areas of life.
Every year, the AAUW hosts a National Conference for College Women Leaders (NCCWSL), where collegiate women from across the country are invited to engage in meaningful ways in a space that is dedicated to empowering them.
While at the conference, students develop new leadership skills by attending discussion panels, workshops, or listening to guest speakers.
For the 2020 national conference, a Goshen College student will once again be in attendance.
Beth Birky, associate academic dean at Goshen College and the campus representative for the AAUW, works alongside GC’s women’s and gender studies department to send students every year. Students that attend are usually nominated by professors or invited by Birky, but all that are interested in attending are encouraged to contact Birky.
For the 2019 national conference, with the help of Dr. LaKendra Hardware, David Kendall, Duane Stoltzfus, Jeanne Liechty, and their respective departments, Goshen College was able to cover the cost to send three students to the NCCWSL.
Among the attending students was Josefina Castillo, who is majoring in social work and minoring in music for social change.
“The conference did a good job at redefining what leadership meant. There is this belief that to be a leader you have to act a certain way. It was nice to hear that just because you don’t fit that definition, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader,” Castillo said.
“Leadership can take many different forms and that has really helped me in how I see and view my leadership positions on campus. I hope that with what I learned at the conference I can be a more effective leader at GC.”
For this reason, Birky always tries to send at least one student to the conference every year, as she believes students gain a valuable understanding of their gender identity and how it impacts leadership for them.
“This opportunity is for students to actually see themselves as leaders and think about how their gender is one piece of what makes them a unique leader… and to recognize that gender really has implications for how they are heard, how they are seen, and the kinds of issues that they are interested in supporting,” Birky said.
“So people come back with this renewed sense that, ‘I do understand I face issues and I do know that I have a role to play in solving some of those issues’ and whatever the gender that’s a wonderful lesson to learn.”
Birky is glad that Goshen College has a relationship with the AAUW but would love to see more leadership programs on campus and for GC to incorporate more opportunities that would facilitate a greater understanding of gender issues among students.
“I would love to see Goshen College continue integrating gender concerns into a lot of different aspects of its programs and I would love to see every department thinking through ways that they can help facilitate an understanding of gender and gender justice in their programs,” said Birky.
“I think that there is a lot to be gained from learning from each other and supporting each other. I think we have a tendency to downplay the role of gender in our experience.”