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9 Things We Learned about Leadership at NCCWSL

students at NCCWSL

Nearly 800 student leaders gathered at NCCWSL 2018.

At the 2018 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, nearly 800 students from around the world gathered to build community and sharpen their leadership skills. Here are some of our favorite moments that had us clapping, snapping, and thinking hard about the future.

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1. Question what you think you know about yourself.

It’s a good thing that 2018 Woman of Distinction Aisha Bowe didn’t give up on math after a bad experience in economics class. She went on to work for NASA and start her own company, STEMBoard. And it’s all because she asked herself, “What if all the things I thought about myself were wrong?”

It was common advice throughout the conference: Don’t let your own — or others’ — ideas of who you are determine your destiny. Paula Dofat, director of college counseling at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, proclaimed during the post-film discussion of the documentary STEP: “Your opinion of me is none of my business, because I’m out doing what I’m supposed to do.”

Thinking about your future career? Consider cybersecurity, encouraged four women representing several intelligence agencies during their workshop. You don’t have to be a computer science major to pursue the field; in fact, in addition to a wide range of majors, employers like the CIA and NSA also look for skills like leadership, communication, and business acumen in their recruits. Plus, it’s a quickly growing field with tons of opportunity.

2. Speak up. The best response to hate speech is more speech.


At the jam-packed State of Race and Social Justice panel, students and panelists held a thoughtful discussion on the current political climate and the growing online breeding ground for hate speech. “We will make progress, but it will be difficult and painful sometimes because we are confronting hateful speech,” said panelist Andre Perry. Where to start? “Build coalitions,” he advised, between natural allies. Community and campus groups should all be talking to each other and to the faculty, because “getting cultures to change requires faculty to change.”
Take notes and write it down if something happens to you, advised panelist and AAUW American Fellow Yazmin Garcia. If you feel your rights have been violated, documentation is crucial for taking action.

3. Get your money in order.

Whether you’re a broke graduate student or working on Wall Street, you need to know your financial health and have a budget. Don’t be intimidated by investments, advised the panelists on Secure Finances for a Secure Future — intimidation prevents many women in particular from getting a handle on their financial security.

Financial empowerment goes along with independence, explained one panelist. When you have your money under control, you can make major life decisions on your own (whether that’s buying a house, relocating for your dream job, or leaving a harmful relationship). Start with a few small steps. Set up a budget if you don’t have one. Have student or other loans? Make sure you have a payment plan that you check on often. And everyone should have financial goals — write them down and share them with your friends and family, who can help hold you accountable.

If you’re job searching, changing jobs, or asking for a raise, sign up for an AAUW salary negotiation workshop.

4. Build a thoughtful online presence.

Whether you’re approaching prospective employers or simply sharing your profile with the wider world, “find a way to present what it is you want to be known for,” advised one panelist in The Dark Side of Social Media. Curate your LinkedIn profile, Instagram, and Twitter carefully based on what you want your audience to see. Start a blog to showcase your writing. True, any employer will probably be able to track down your public social media accounts if they wish, but curating and producing the pieces you’re proud of and displaying them up front will help you put your best food forward.

5. Get offline sometimes.

Image via @AAUWGrandView on Twitter

Social media can help you build coalitions and get out messaging — but, warned panelist Andre Perry, “it’s never going to be the complete meat of the struggle.” Don’t forget to meet people face-to-face, invite administrators and board members to important meetings, and get out in the community in person.

In a panel on social media and mental health, one panelist advised taking planned breaks from the online world. Journaling is one great way to do this. Practice sitting down each day to free write; don’t proofread, put it away, and revisit what you wrote later. Writing can be a meditative practice.

6. Organize, no matter where you are.

Me Too Movement Founder and Activist Tarana Burke knows a thing or two about this one, as she shared in the keynote session. She organized walkouts in high school and protest rallies in college but found her calling in confronting sexual violence in her community, largely because no one else was doing the work. Don’t, she cautioned, allow media and other influences to turn allies against each other. “This is not a moment for us to fight amongst each other. This is a moment for us to lean into our commonality.”

One workshop discussed the importance of connections between students, faculty, and staff when it comes to making change on campus. Think about how you can bring together not only students but alumni, parents, professors, grassroots groups, and social media to find common ground and get out your message.

Another crucial tool of organization, of course, is exercising your civil liberties. Closing session speaker Madelyn Scales Harris, who grew up in a segregated town, is now making political change in her community as the vice mayor of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “Vote! We get our power in our vote,” she urged attendees.

7. Know the differences between diversity and inclusion, and act on them.

You’ve probably had the experience of entering a space, whether it’s a campus or a workplace, where you didn’t feel you fit. As workshop presenters Paige Robnett and Sophia Brown put it, diversity is like being invited to dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance when you get there. Belonging, though, is when you dance like no one is watching.

What helps people feel they belong? Reaching out personally to get individuals to join groups or activities. Practicing common courtesy with everyone in your community — hold the door open for people. Telling your own story works on eliciting compassion, empathy, and real change. Administrations have a role, too: talking directly with students as soon as problems arise and starting programs on leadership and diversity that seek input and representation across the student body are good places to start.

8. Don’t quit on yourself.

Featured Speaker and Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo Vlora Çitaku told attendees a story from when she was serving on Kosovo’s parliament reviewing a law. The language of the law referred only to the president and first lady, but she asked, “What about if and when we have a woman president?” Her fellow parliamentarians laughed. “Fine,” they said, “we’ll take the amendment, but don’t you think you’re a little too young to have such ambition?” Only a couple of years later, though, Çitaku had the last laugh when Kosovo elected the first woman president in southeastern Europe.

“Although politics might seem frustrating, although we might think that what we’re going through is difficult, I have seen worse, and I have seen women come out stronger out of it,” Çitaku said, touching on her experience as a refugee during the Kosovo War. “Never give up, build friendships, don’t be selfish, lean on one another, and just sail on,” she said.

9. Be a good ally.

Students at NCCWSL

When the #MeToo hashtag went viral in 2017 without any initial credit to Tarana Burke, she panicked that her work would be erased, as so many women of color have experienced. But thanks to a supportive group of allies around Burke and online, the truth of the movement’s origins was quickly corrected, and the actress who initially tweeted the hashtag reached out to Burke personally as soon as she realized the oversight. She asked what she could do to help, and she made sure that Burke was centered and credited in all coverage of Me Too. That, Burke said, is good allyship. “Be thinking about where you fit in this work, what is your role. Because everybody has a lane.”

This post was written by AAUW Communications Manager of Advancement, Fellowships, and Programs Kathryn Bibler.

By:    June 05, 2018