In a small room tucked away in Colbourn Hall, six young women meet to discuss female empowerment for a nonprofit organization, the American Association of University Women.
These students are the officers of the UCF chapter of the AAUW, which promotes equity and education for women, according to the organization’s website. Even though the organization has been empowering women since 1881, the UCF chapter just opened this semester with the help of Christine Hanlon of the Nicholson School of Communication and Maria Cristina Santana of the Women’s and Gender Studies program.
“Originally, [the chapter] was to support the Women’s and Gender Studies program. When we were talking about it initially … we realized we were having a difficult time reaching out to students and trying to recruit people for the minor,” said Chelsea Aldrich, a senior advertising and public relations major and president of the chapter. “But we sort of started shifting our ideas and we’re not only speaking with women’s and gender studies students, we’re also reaching out across curriculum in trying to recruit as many different majors, minors and certificates as possible.”
The chapter has already hosted a number of activities to help accomplish its goal of empowering women, such as hosting a UCF Army ROTC representative and Navy personnel to discuss women in the military and sexual assault.
As for upcoming events, the chapter will be holding a mixer on Nov. 30 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Burger U on campus.
“We want our members to take something away from this, whether it be a career skill, a life skill, just learning that we can empower each other, because oftentimes women in competitive fields bring each other down,” said the UCF chapter’s Vice President Stephanie Zapata, a senior anthropology major. “We want to teach them that it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a place for all of us, and you can do that by empowering each other.”
The AAUW has developed a number of programs to assist women, such as its STEM education and campus leadership programs. According to its website, the AAUW gives $3.7 million every year to students and grassroots projects in STEM programs.
UCF has a large focus on its STEM programs and majors, and although Aldrich doesn’t think women are represented fairly in these science-based majors, she does recognize that there has been progress.
In the future, the chapter aims to promote women’s involvement in the STEM program by having them talk to the organization about their research.
Whether it’s through STEM education, campus leadership or yoga, the organization aims to give UCF women the tools to be successful in all aspects of their lives.
“Women’s issues are peoples’ issues; they affect everyone,” said the chapter’s Co-Treasurer Brittany Gil, a senior interdisciplinary studies major. “Pay equity or the pay gap affects not only women, but their families. So I think just that idea alone should motivate people to empower women because when you support a woman, you’re supporting a community. You’re supporting families.”
The chapter currently has about 10 members and is open to everyone. Students can get involved with this organization by attending meetings, which are held every other Monday at 6 p.m. in Room 103 of Classroom Building I, or by contacting members on Facebook. Members must pay dues, which are $10 per semester or $15 for the year.
Josie Graham is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.