Finding Community and Belonging with AAUW

College student standing with AAUW sign around her head.

Theresa Johnson is a National Student Advisory Council member and an AAUW student organization leader.

January 12, 2016

When I started as a transfer student at Lock Haven University in the fall of 2014, it had been three years since I was in a classroom, one year since I had my daughter, and I was about to turn 22. I was ready to be back in school and determined to do my very best, but I was also nervous and lacking in self-confidence.

Having been out of the college environment for so long, a big challenge was that I felt old and was sure no one was going to want to hang out with me now that I was a mom. In an effort to meet new friends and make the most of my back-to-school experience, I looked for ways to become involved on campus. I joined a couple of groups but quickly fell head over heels for the newly created AAUW student organization on campus. It was a match made in feminist heaven.

Stepping Into Leadership

When I met the student organization’s faculty advisers that fall, I learned that they were in need of officers committed to getting the organization off the ground. The chance to help build a new group? Step into a leadership position? Work closely with students who are passionate about social equality? Those sounded like things that would help me find my niche on campus. I volunteered for the secretary position and soon began working with the four other officers.

While we found our footing as a new organization that first year, we focused on recruitment and drew a lot of interest. I looked forward to every gathering and meeting that brought new faces, and at the end of the year, our strong membership and campus programming efforts paid off when we received a healthy budget from the student activities council. It was truly a great first year as an official campus organization, but it really only marked the beginning of my journey with AAUW.

Three AAUW college student leaders standing outside a meeting.

In Good Company

Because of an AAUW national scholarship that I received, I was able to go to the National Conference for College Student Leaders (NCCWSL) in May 2015. At NCCWSL, I met members of the 2014–15 National Student Advisory Council (SAC) who encouraged me to apply to serve on this year’s council. NCCWSL was a game changer for me; all of the conference activities left me feeling inspired, and as I drove away from the University of Maryland, College Park, I was practically bouncing out of my seat, full of new ideas. I also left NCCWSL with an overwhelming feeling of peace, because I had found my niche. I had found a group of people, a group much larger than I had even hoped for, that sees the world like I do. In each person I met that weekend, I saw optimists, fighters, intellectuals, artists, thinkers, and doers. And I was so happy to call myself one of them.

These AAUW leadership positions have given me entry into two great communities. The first is my home community at Lock Haven University where, thanks to my AAUW student affiliation, I have been able to work with incredible local advocates for gender equality. The second is my AAUW national community. Serving on the 2015–16 SAC has provided me with new friends from around the country who inspire me with their plans for activism and leadership, and push me and my own goals even further. The sense of community that I’ve found with AAUW has helped me to grow as a leader, stay motivated as a student, and, ultimately, find my place in this world.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council Member and AAUW Student Organization Leader Theresa Johnson.

By:   |   January 12, 2016


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