11 Projects That Will Inspire You to Fight Gender Stereotypes

July 07, 2015

Students from 11 colleges came up with innovative ways to fight sexism and racism on campus this spring. The schools each earned a 2014–15 AAUW Campus Action Project grant, sponsored by Pantene, to launch their projects in the spring semester.

I dare you to walk away uninspired! And remember, you can apply for a CAP grant yourself. Find out how.

1. Fighting the Harmful Labels Put on Women of Color

The 2014-15 CAP team at Cheyney University

What the team at Cheyney University accomplished in a semester is truly difficult to believe. They identified a problem that was specific to their community: Cheyney is a historically black college that is located in an otherwise not very diverse area of Pennsylvania, and students face harsh stereotypes around their own school. The team especially concentrated on the experience of women of color at Cheyney, and to say that they took a multifaceted approach is an enormous understatement.

Several of the projects focused on women redefining themselves and rejecting labels that had been placed on them. The team made a video where students wrote a label in lipstick on a mirror and then crossed it out in favor of a label they gave themselves. One woman crossed out the words “conceited” and “stuck-up” and wrote instead “proud” and “high self-esteem.” They also launched a poster campaign to do similar relabeling and include the context of mini-bios of the featured women, and they featured great women in history on some posters.

The team also conducted a gender attitudes survey and held several events that brought in men, local women of color in nontraditional careers, and more. The team held a speaker series and self-esteem workshops to boost students’ confidence to pursue male-dominated fields. They held an all-male panel discussion about what the media tells us about black women and a complementary all-women panel about the same subject, focusing especially on reality TV and the way that media fosters hatefulness among women. Some of the offensive stereotypes they addressed were beauty standards that favor lighter skin, the idea that single mothers are all on welfare, and the idea that black men only want to be rappers. As if all that amazing work wasn’t enough, the team also held a women’s empowerment conference. Hopefully the Cheyney team is getting some rest this summer after a hugely productive semester with their project!

2. Finding Inspiration, Vision, and Equality

A woman reads "Lean In" in her desk chair.

The Murray State University team from Kentucky covered several topics related to women’s leadership. They hosted a speaker from Running Start to talk about why it’s important for women students to take advantage of leadership opportunities on campus. They also held a book club discussion of Lean In, did a poster series about the accomplishments of women, held a luncheon to celebrate gains in women’s equity, and started a mentoring program that matched college women with local middle-school girls.

3. Leaning In to Activism at West Virginia Wesleyan

Four young women stand outside on their college campus

The team from West Virginia Wesleyan College set up programming to appeal to all sorts of students. They were interested in exploring issues surrounding gender in job aspirations, hiring practices, pay, and family leave. The events they organized included a discussion of Lean In for Graduates; a screening of Miss Representation; a panel for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and a salary negotiation event where they did a mock negotiation.

4. Melting Gender Roles in Dubuque

The 2014-15 CAP team from Dubuque standing together in front of an AAUW banner

Occupational segregation was a key motivator for the team from the University of Dubuque, and they held a big event to break down the barriers that cause women and men to cluster into fields “traditional” for their gender. The Melting Gender Roles, Stirring Up Awareness event featured a “tunnel of oppression” at its entrance to interactively illustrate the experience of sexism. The event featured booths from student organizations that addressed sexism in marketing, a photo booth where you could try on different costumes that symbolized gender-segregated jobs, and snacks like “genderbread” (gingerbread) and fondue that symbolized melting gender roles. The women’s track team challenged men to weightlifting contests to combat the common insult “like a girl,” the aviation department built paper airplanes to raise awareness of the lack of women in the field, and a panel of professionals spoke about being in nontraditional jobs (a woman judge, a stay-at-home dad, and more).

The event was very popular among students. The team hopes to start an AAUW student organization on campus and wants to do this event every other year.

5. Milwaukee Students Show that Fighting Sexual Assault Is a Community Affair

Watch video on YouTube

Students at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, were horrified by the prevalence of sexual assault – especially the fact that students are less likely to report being attacked than other victims. They set out to dispel the stereotypes and myths that surround sexual assault on campus, so they surveyed their peers in residence halls and the student union to find out what students thought about what sexual assault is and whom it affects. They used the results to guide a promotional campaign to spread messages such as alcohol is never an excuse for assault, silence is not consent, and that assault is never the victim’s fault.

The team worked with a student designer to create an amazing visual campaign of statistics and lessons about sexual assault, and they made a moving public service announcement with help from film students; even their chancellor participated in the video. They also held events to discuss how to be a good ally to survivors and asked students to sign a pledge about getting consent and intervening when they see unsafe situations.

The team is working with the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault to figure out how to keep their campaign going.

6. Moving Girls forward in STEM

The 2014-15 CAP team from Napa Valley Community College

The Campus Action Project team from Napa Valley Community College in California conducted original research to figure out how to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at two key points in education: middle school and college. They looked at how many women were pursuing STEM fields at their own college and set out to survey 7–9th graders about their perceptions of STEM and their academic interests. The results were about what they predicted: Younger students perceive that mostly men work in STEM fields, and girls reported that they didn’t plan to major in STEM and had never been encouraged to do so; at their college, the gender gap every STEM field but biology was wide.

But the team didn’t stop there — they put their own research into action with two amazing events for students, with help from their local AAUW Napa Valley (CA) Branch. Their SciTech event for girls featured speakers and interactive workshops on robotics, brains, math puzzles, and computer coding. The team also formed a support group for women studying STEM at Napa Valley Community College; the group met often and visited a local engineering company.

7. Sexism from A to Z

2014-15 CAP team members from Sierra College sport their project's T-shirts.

A tight-knit group from Sierra College in California put together an alphabet of gender stereotypes to display on campus. The team reached out to diverse groups to gather significant words related to gender equality for every letter of the alphabet. They then wrote up descriptions of what the words mean in feminist work and what can be done. Posters were then displayed on the quad on campus for passersby to see.

Their entry for A was apathy, which they said leads to inaction. “We need action to challenge sexism and achieve equity on all levels.” S was sex trafficking, which they pointed out was especially prevalent in nearby Sacramento. The team described getting some disturbing reactions from passersby on campus, specifically men who said the project was racist against white men. But the team came away from the project irrevocably bonded; they describe themselves as not a team but a family. They made a booklet of all 26 entries and put it online so that the project can have a reach beyond campus.

8. Starting a Gender Equity Revolution

Watch video on Vimeo

Students at the College at Brockport in New York made a video to raise awareness about issues like the gender pay gap, and they held the Start a Revolution conference that focused on breaking down stereotypes. The conference featured breakout sessions on career, leadership, and salary issues. The group also asked students to sign a pledge to end stereotyping and hosted screenings of the movies Crash and Miss Representation with panels of professors to discuss how the films address racism and sexism.

9. Students Tearing It Up, Literally

A poster showing two images of a woman, one labeled "too black" and the other "too white"

The Campus Action Project from Pacific Lutheran University, which is in Tacoma, Washington, featured a wide variety of athletes, students, faculty, and even local middle schoolers tearing up words and phrases that perpetuate stereotypes. The team asked participants to identify the words, submit a quote about what they chose, be photographed tearing up the words, and commit to not using the language. The resulting series of posters are beautiful and affecting — and available online. The team also brought a poetry duo who work on trans, queer, and people of color activism, Dark Matter, to campus to perform.

10. Women of Color, in their Own Words


Students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, launched a hugely successful poster campaign of women of color confronting the offensive things they hear on a daily basis. Students declared that they weren’t white on the inside, illegal, submissive, exotic, bad drivers, model minorities, and so much more. The project included several events where students could learn self-expression skills and culminated in an event where participants were able to describe who they are instead of who they aren’t, redefining themselves outside the stereotypes.

11. Using Technology to Share Work Wisdom

Members of the 2014-15 CAP team at Clemson University

The Clemson University team wanted to bring STEM experts to campus to talk to students about the obstacles women face to achieving their goals. After recruiting an amazing pool of speakers, the team had to figure out how to gather experts from around the country within their modest budget. What they decided on was a series of web-based panels that brought the best of the best together to talk to students, who could either log in remotely or come to a classroom to watch a webcast and ask questions. The result was an amazing series of well-attended, interactive speaker sessions that addressed issues such as hiring discrimination and work-life balance when you have young children. The team plans to post the sessions online for everyone to enjoy.

By:   |   July 07, 2015


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  14. […] out this article ‘11 Projects That Will Inspire You to Fight Gender Stereotypes’ to see how some are working to shape a world of change and […]

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