Beyond Bossy, Slutty, or Bitchy: College Students Fight Gender Stereotypes

A group of young women from Sierra College in California stand together smiling

Members of the 2014–15 AAUW Campus Action Project team at Sierra College in California

January 29, 2015


Update July 7, 2015: These amazing college advocates have completed projects that bust gender stereotypes and the discrimination and bias that result. Read more about what they have accomplished in our follow-up post.

If you’ve ever been to middle school, you’ve heard your fair share of the insults that are routinely hurled at girls in the hallways, online, and everywhere. It doesn’t matter what clubs you’re in, what you do after school, or what subjects you like. No girl walks away unscathed by gender stereotypes and bias.

The sad truth is, stereotypes and bias follow us into adulthood. They hurt us professionally, psychologically, and physically, and they intersect with discrimination that’s based on race, sexuality, gender identity, disability, and so much more.

That’s why AAUW is thrilled to announce that 11 campuses across the country are working to fight back against stereotypes and bias in spring 2015. The AAUW Campus Action Project (CAP) grants, sponsored by Pantene, are providing student-led teams the opportunity to launch projects to help put an end to the gender biases and stereotypes that affect their communities most.

Read about all of our amazing 2014–15 Campus Action Project grantees below.

To learn more about the CAP program, e-mail


My Life, My Label

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
Cheyney, Pennsylvania

Cheyney is a historically black university that serves primarily first-generation, urban, low-income students but is located in a suburban and affluent area of Pennsylvania. The group of 12 students who make up Cheyney’s Campus Action Project team say that the school’s population and location makes it crucial to address the stereotypes that students face on and around their campus.

The team will address stereotypes about women of color and explore the biases women have against each other in a visual campaign. Posters will include a photo of a woman, a short biography, and a label that she identifies for herself — compared with a label that society gave her. The team is also planning discussion panels, a speaker series, and a women’s empowerment conference.

Run the World

Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina

The seven-person team at Clemson University will create a webinar series to connect university students with local and national women leaders. The Run the World webinars will be monthly from February through May 2015. The gatherings will allow students to extend their professional networks and connect with women who have varied personal and professional experiences and have already succeeded in their fields. The team wants to discredit the stereotypes that women face as professionals and leaders in industries.

Start a Revolution

The College at Brockport
Brockport, New York

To create a more equitable and educated campus, nine students at the College at Brockport are producing a one-day conference addressing gender stereotypes. The conference will include speakers, networking opportunities, and a discussion of biases in advertising, which creates unrealistic body ideals and harsh labels for women that limit their careers and education.

The team was inspired by a campus climate survey at their school, which found that an alarming percentage of students were the targets of derogatory remarks and discrimination. The College at Brockport team wants to make sure that stereotypes don’t make students feel unwelcome on campus or hold women back from running for leadership positions.

The High FIVE Initiative

Murray State University
Murray, Kentucky

The Murray State team wants to tackle a common stereotype in their area: that women should put family and home first and sacrifice professional or personal growth. Their work will focus on the troubling dichotomy that this stereotype sets up. On one end, women give up on professional advancement completely. On the other, women are forced to overextend themselves to balance work and family. The team relates these issues to the leadership gap (Kentucky has only had two women represent them in the U.S. House and zero in the U.S. Senate) and work-life balance.

The team has been motivated by seeing more women pursuing leadership roles in state and campus leadership. The team’s five-month campaign will include a weekly book club, a monthly speaker series, and visits to local schools for discussions related to gender biases and education.

Moving Women Forward in STEM Careers

Napa Valley College
Napa, California

The team at Napa Valley College will address the biases toward women and girls studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The team wants to bust the myths that women aren’t good at math, that men are better suited to be engineers, and that young women are out of place in a profession that’s usually depicted as the domain of older, white men. The team was inspired by their own experiences as STEM majors, where women are rarities in engineering and calculus classes and can feel isolated in their own fields.

The Campus Action Project team of six students wants to encourage girls and women in STEM by connecting 7–9th graders in the Napa Valley Unified School District with STEM professionals at Napa Valley College. The team plans to learn what stereotypes discourage local students from pursuing STEM and to encourage them to seek out STEM opportunities in the future.

My Choice: Gender Edition

Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, Washington

At Pacific Lutheran, 10 students are collaborating with Keithley Middle School to address gender stereotypes using a poster campaign. The campaign will include students, faculty, and staff ripping up words and phrases that promote gender stereotypes.

The team is polling students to find out what stereotypes hurt them the most, and they plan to address slurs head-on: words like pussy, bitch, fag, feminazi, slut, tease, and more. The team will use these words to challenge sexism and homophobia and show how words are used to shame and attack women and men.

The Pacific Lutheran team was inspired by the fact that students of color at PLU cite microaggressions (everyday, intentional and unintentional insults) as a primary barrier to feeling like they belong on campus. The school started a campaign to address racial stereotypes, so the PLU team was inspired to add a gender lens to complement that work.

By educating middle school students, the team hopes to stop stereotypes from perpetuating in the future. The project will conclude with a summit to discuss what the observers and participants have learned.

Gender Stereotype Alphabet

Sierra College
Rocklin, California

A four-week visual installation is being created by nine students at Sierra College to address gender misconceptions. The exhibit will rotate among the Rocklin and Nevada County campuses.

The installation will visually explore stereotypes from A to Z. The team will assign a word to each letter of the alphabet to represent a stereotype, bias, or experience (for example, cat calling, heteronormativity, or unequal pay). The letters will have a brief definition of the word, examples, and an action that students can take. In the wake of California passing SB 967, which requires that colleges rethink what consent means in terms of sexual assault policies, the team is interested in addressing stereotypes that blame victims for their assaults.

Sierra College students were inspired to launch the Gender Stereotype Alphabet after hearing about research that says that women and girls increasingly internalize harassment as a personal problem that they have to deal with on their own. The installation will culminate with an event that brings students and administrators together to address gender biases.

Melting Gender Roles: Stirring Up Awareness

University of Dubuque
Dubuque, Iowa

A group of young women and men stand around in a classroom

Members of the Campus Action Project team at the University of Dubuque in Iowa

The four-person team at the University of Dubuque will host an event that will include booths and a panel discussion. Since popular programs at the university tend to be segregated by gender (nursing, business, aviation, education, and others), the team wants to motivate students to open their minds about career possibilities that might not be traditional for their gender. The team also wants to raise awareness about the stereotypes that surround sexual assault on campus.

The Campus Action Project team will host a photo booth with props like lab coats, construction hats, and other job-specific apparel to inspire people to challenge stereotypes about which occupations are appropriate for men and women. They hope to have booths where people can take an implicit assumption test, talk about women in video games and tech, and learn about women’s representation in popular films and advertising.


Telling Our Stories: I’m Not/I Am

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

In a multimedia awareness campaign, seven students at UMBC will put together a display where women of color will name and reject the intersecting biases they have encountered. Tabling events will allow other students to do the same.

The UMBC team wants to tackle the everyday marginalization they’ve faced being categorized as an exotic other in dating, being underestimated as women, and being expected to laugh off racist costumes or derogatory comments from peers. This project will help dismantle racist and sexist stereotypes and fight back with counternarratives so that women can tell their stories, be heard, and be their own strongest champions.

The campaign will also include a lecture about how to use social media activism to address racism and sexism, as well as workshops where students can creatively express their own identities using poetry, storytelling, or another form of artistic expression.

Shifting from Victim-Blaming to Campus Education around Sexual Assault Prevention

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Ten UWM students are addressing sexual assault on campus and breaking ground by getting students and administrators to work together. There are so many misconceptions about sexual assault on campus, from who perpetrates it (usually acquaintances or partners, not strangers) to what sexual assault even means (it’s not just one type of violation in one type of situation). The vast majority of assaults go unreported, and there’s so much confusion about things like drinking and consent. The UWM team hopes to clarify these issues and get students and administrators on the same page through a visual, awareness-raising campaign.

Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders in Rural Appalachia

West Virginia Wesleyan College
Buckhannon, West Virginia

The WVWC team is interested in the stereotypes that affect women’s careers, and they want to bust the myth that women can’t do traditional “men’s jobs,” to fight against wage inequality, and to address family leave and work-life balance issues. The fair pay issue strikes especially close to home: West Virginia ranks 49th in the United States for pay equity, and WVWC is in the congressional district that ranks lowest in the state in terms of the gender wage gap.

The team’s planned events include a book discussion of Lean In, a mentorship program, and a screening of Miss Representation to teach students about the stereotypes that limit women in all walks of life and to help students build the confidence to fight back.

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