AAUW Stands against Bias and Bigotry

February 03, 2017

Diverse group of hands by race, ethnicity, and gender. Stand together against bigotry and bias. Donate to AAUW now.

For more than 135 years, AAUW has stood against intolerance and injustice. And we have no plans of sitting down now. As our country faces some of our greatest tests, it is important to look at AAUW’s history to show that the squall of discrimination cannot be met by silence.

AAUW believes America is great because of our diversity, not in spite of it. Per AAUW’s member-endorsed public policy priorities, AAUW “firmly believes in the separation of church and state” and supports “vigorous protection of and full access to civil and constitutional rights.” This country’s diverse citizenry make America more globally competitive. We cannot remain silent when bias and bigotry are directed toward refugees and immigrants.

AAUW recently joined more than 100 religious and civil rights organizations urging passage of the Protect American Families Act (S. 54), which would uphold religious freedom and the inalienable rights of all people. This legislation prohibits the creation of a federally funded registry that is discriminatory and that targets individuals based on race, age, gender, national origin, nationality, citizenship, religion, and/or ethnicity. AAUW believes all communities and persons of all faiths should be able to live free from oppressive government policies. AAUW believes that congressional support of the Protect American Families Act is a part of our elected officials’ duty to protect the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the Constitution and to defend the human rights of all.

AAUW “firmly believes in the separation of church and state” and supports “vigorous protection of and full access to civil and constitutional rights.”

This action is very much in line with AAUW’s dedication to human rights throughout our history. These are a few of the examples we’re most proud of.

One hundred years ago, AAUW, then known as the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA), responded to the major refugee crisis caused by World War I. ACA members formed relief units made up of college students and recent graduates who travelled to Europe to assist displaced people. These young women risked their lives and assumed jobs for which they previously had no experience, including as nurses, hospital aides, ambulance drivers, translators, and couriers. Some members of the relief units stayed beyond the end of the war and assisted with the rebuilding of towns and villages.

During World War II, AAUW recognized the growing crisis and established the War Relief Fund to assist European Jewish women scholars and others displaced and threatened by the Nazi occupation. The fund was initially European in scope but later expanded to Asia. AAUW leaders became part of a global relief effort, using their contacts through the International Federation of University Women. AAUW members sponsored women through the immigration process, often assuming responsibility for them financially, and then arranged for teaching positions for the refugees at American colleges and universities.

This was a race against the clock as immigration out of Europe became more restricted. Refugee women often wrote letters directly to AAUW appealing for help. Recognizing that this crisis needed a full-out effort, AAUW established an Immigration Subcommittee of the International Relations Committee. Study guides and research were published for branch members to better understand the subject and find a way to help. It was also during this time that AAUW passed a resolution supporting the “formulation and maintenance of a foreign policy by the USA that is predicated on the assumption that human life and civilization are more important than material interests” (1935).

Albert Einstein alongside his letter to AAUW

In 1989, AAUW donated the original letter to the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Once WWII was over, the work continued and intensified. AAUW coordinated with the International Federation of University Women, now Graduate Women International, to assist displaced persons to locate family members and find a way out of temporary camps and into permanent homes. Many in the camps felt they could not return to their homelands. This AAUW relief work continued into the early 1950s. Some AAUW members sponsored families and even provided for their education. At the same time, AAUW leaders recognized that there were a sizable number of women whose studies were interrupted due to the war. In response, AAUW established the International Study Grant program. Recipients were pursuing degrees in fields that were considered vital to postwar reconstruction, including psychology, nutrition and dietetics, medicine, teaching, and social work. It was also during this time that AAUW passed a resolution “urging modification of immigration laws to permit freer movement of persons” (1955).

A few decades later, the effect of the Vietnam War was being felt in every corner of the globe. In 1971, AAUW passed a resolution condemning “in strongest terms the repressive and cruel treatment of prisoners” and petitioned the governments of Vietnam and all Southeast Asian forces holding prisoners to observe the rules of the Geneva Convention. Another resolution urged “a plan to enable AAUW to assist sponsorship of Vietnamese refugees” (1975).

By 1976 more than 150,000 Southeast Asian refugees settled in the United States. That same year AAUW established the Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement Program. This was a branch program instructing AAUW members nationwide on how to help refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos “achieve a basic level of self-sufficiency and adjust to a new way of life.” AAUW members sponsored families, provided English tutoring, and supplied basic needs.

AAUW later passed a resolution supporting “the development of a consistent policy towards refugees that acknowledges their social, economic, and political needs and supports those programs which facilitate the transition of refugees into American life” (1981) and also called for the “formulation of a just and humane immigration policy” (1983).

Keeping in line with our history as an organization, AAUW will not be silent in the face of bias and bigotry today. Our unique voice is needed now more than ever.

This post was written by Political Media Manager Amy Becker and Archivist Suzanne Gould.



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By:   |   February 03, 2017