HARTFORD, CT, June 12, 2013 – Eight female undergraduates were among the more than 700 college women who learned skill building, networked with peers, heard from inspiring leaders and attended workshops at the 29th annual National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL), sponsored by the American Association of University of Women.
|L-R, Xonana Scrubb ’14, Chinwe Oparaocha ’14, and Mitchell Mirtil ’14|
The students, who represented Trinity’s Women & Gender Action Resource Center (WGRAC) at the Washington D.C., conference, included Martha Dane ’13, Bettina Gonzalez ’16, Viridiana Medina ’16, Mitchell Mirtil ’14, Chinwe Oparaocha ’14, Xonana Scrubb ’14, Sarah Watson ’15, and Fay Williams ’14. Their trip was made possible by funds from WGRAC and from Cynthia Lufkin ’84, and the Lufkin Family Foundation, which has made money available to WGRAC for the prevention of sexual assault.
Laura Lockwood, director of WGRAC, said that although some Trinity students have gone to the conference in previous years, this was the largest contingent that the College has sent, thanks to the Lufkin funds, AAUW scholarships and personal contributions.
A highlight of the conference was the Women of Distinction Awards ceremony in which several high-achieving women were honored, including Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; Reshma Saujami, the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress; Deborah Owens, an advocate for women’s economic empowerment; Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a trailblazing molecular biologist; Ritu Sharma, an activist for impoverished women; and Katie Miller, a former West Point cadet who resigned because of the injustice of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays and lesbians.
Watson, an English literature major, described the conference as “awesome,” saying it gave her an opportunity to interact with women from all backgrounds and with different points of view from her own. For example, she said, she met a student who owned nine guns, something she had not encountered either in high school or at Trinity.
A resident of Columbus, Ohio, Watson said that she was particularly impressed and inspired by the Women of Distinction, all of whom had interesting stories to tell. “One of the most common themes was how they talked about failure,” said Watson. “For some of them, their paths to success started with failure. In some cases, their parents thought they were throwing their lives away.”
Watson said one of the most important lessons that she took away from the conference was that each of the women followed their “inner voice regardless of the consequences.”
Lockwood described the conference as an ideal opportunity for young women to participate, learn and network on a national scale in an educational and empowering setting, adding that the participants will be able to share their experiences and the knowledge gleaned from the NCCWSL with Trinity students in the fall.
Bettina Gonzalez, who is from the Washington D.C. area, called the conference “a truly enriching experience.” She drew particular benefit from workshops about sexual harassment and assault and about self-defense as a means to empower survivors of sexual assault.
“It never occurred to me the repercussions that family and friends of survivors also experience until then,” Gonzalez said. “I really appreciated that workshop since so many survivors were willing to share their stories and experiences.”
Gonzalez also said the conference heightened her awareness of “the mental and psychological stress that achieving success has put on and plagued so many college women. The best way to combat stress is to follow what one believes to be right for oneself.”
Gonzalez said that although the conference’s target audience was women, she said it might have been instructive to have men attend. “I just think it is important to have the conversation about women’s empowerment with men, too, so that they are more open to understanding the issue.”
A biology major from Willingboro, NJ, Chinwe Oparaocha said it was exciting to meet female students from across the country, especially those who considered themselves student leaders.
Perhaps surprisingly – given the push to get women to enter the fields of science, math and engineering – Oparaocha said she felt the conference was geared toward students who study the humanities and social sciences. “My contribution and what I could absorb was limited,” she said, adding that she did try to soak up everything that she could.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as wasted information, especially when it deals with leadership and college students,” she said. “And so I listened and I processed.” And Oparaocha acknowledged that the conference afforded her “perspectives that I might not have come by ordinarily.”
Mitchell Mirtil, a psychology major from Elmsford, NY, characterized the conference as a great opportunity to meet women who are driven, ambitious and motivated.
Calling it an “eye-opening experience,” Mirtil said the experience reinforced for her the notion that women, particularly college-educated women, have the ability “to make a difference every day” and have the potential to make a difference down the road.
“In my eyes,” she said, “the conference had three important focuses: the influence of women in the history of America, the women in powerful positions in America today, and the tools we need to become influential women in the future.”