On Sept. 16, the Maryville branch of the American Association of University Women hosted an event where three Maryville College students, seniors Bronte Taylor and Maria Vanegas and junior Kirksey Croft, shared their experiences from the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL).
“The mission of AAUW is to advance equity for women through research, education, and advocacy, and each year the Maryville branch specifically seeks opportunities to fulfill our mission for providing opportunities for girls and women in Blount County,” said Maryville branch president, Jennifer Spirko.
The NCCWSL took place from May 29 to June 1 at Maryland College Park and allowed collegiate women to attend different sessions covering a wide range of topics like the wage gap and self-defense.
In previous years, the Maryville AAUW was only able to send one woman to the conference, but with the successful fundraising of the Women’s Equity Fund, and Croft
Croft is a political science major, a peer mentor co-chair meaning she works with both the freshman and the other peer mentors, an intern at Planned Parenthood, a Bonner Scholar, and she interned over the summer at the Border Community Alliance.
Taylor is an American Sign Language major, a lead academic support mentor, she has been an elected a class representative for Maryville College’s Student Government Association, and as an ASL major she plays a role in the Deaf Community.
Vanegas is a political science major, an RA in Gibson, an intern with a nonprofit organization that does work with immigration and criminal justice reform and is involved with the Latino Student Alliance on campus.
Croft, Taylor, and Vanegas prepared a presentation on their experiences that they shared with the members of the AAUW and others in attendance. Vanegas attended a session on salary negotiation and the wage gap.
“Hispanic women get paid 54 cents for every dollar a man makes,” Vanegas said. “This issue is something that kind of hits close to home. It was something that when I was listening to this workshop I thought it was very important to kind of listen and see that I could apply the skills effectively to learn how to negotiate my salary and also teach my fellow Latinas about how to negotiate their salary.”
Vanegas shared some of the steps of negotiating salary.
“Start by knowing your value,” Vanegas said. “What experiences and skills do you bring already … know your strategy and practice, practice, practice.”
Croft attended a session called “Understanding Title IX.”
“The main theme of that is ‘How can we better support survivors on campus?” Croft said. “One of the reasons that was most interesting was because in the session there were many different universities, private and public, that basically explained to us what they do within the culture of their institution to make the culture better to support survivors but also to prevent these instances from happening in the first place.”
One session Taylor attended was called “Navigating difficult conversations.”
“As someone who has very strong political beliefs who also is a leader, finding the happy medium between the two is difficult because as a leader you will come across all kinds of people and all kinds of students maybe who you don’t agree with,” Taylor said. “But, to be a leader is to be able to find common ground so that you can still be respected and respect whoever you’re working with.”
As an American Sign Language major, Taylor found another surprise at the session. She played a video from the session that had an ASL interpreter present.
“This session at this conference was spectacular for me not only because I got to hear and see it, but I also finally got to meet a participant there who was deaf and interact and communicate and connect which was her first connection with anyone there who wasn’t an interpreter,” Taylor said.
Taylor, Croft and Vanegas shared their biggest takeaway from the conference.
“It’s easy to get caught up in your resume and all these shiny gold stars that you have,” Taylor said. “It’s easy to come from this conference saying look at all these great things I learned and all these great things I did, but the important part that we all agreed on is not what we did and what we learned but how we can bring that back.”
“We should remember that our experiences as women are not always individual but collective,” Croft said. “These are all collective actions that are happening to us because of our gender or various things like that, so that was really empowering to be in that situation and share that with those other people.” “Another big take away was [to] understand that there are intersectional barriers that affect women differently, so because we are a collective we want to understand that we want to support each other not only in our role as women but also including aspects different people’s culture,” Vanegas said. “We all have different things that bring us together, but we all are striving to improve different aspects of society.