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Posts Tagged ‘California’

Sylvia Mendez and June Hernandez may have never met, but they had many things in common. Both were Mexican American girls who were just trying to attend school in Southern California. Instead of being allowed to go to the well-funded white schools in Orange County, they were sent to Mexican American public schools even when doing so required the girls to bus across the city or county. There were no laws in place that required school districts to segregate Mexican American children from white children — it was just the result of a shamefully ignorant community.

While many associate school desegregation with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, few remember or are aware of the 1946 Orange County case Mendez v. Westminster School District. At age 9, Mendez became a part of a movement that was started by outraged families who were tired of the substandard education provided to Mexican American children. At the time, the Garden Grove Unified School District Superintendent James Kent testified that Mexican children were inferior in terms of hygiene, ability, and economic outlook. The Mendez case set a crucial precedent — that segregating schools by race was unconstitutional. Although the case only encompassed the school districts in that community, it would later serve as a precedent for other cases in California and for Brown v. Board of Education. Earl Warren, governor of California when Mendez v. Westminster was being argued, later became the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The language he used in Brown v. Board of Education resembled the language used in the ruling of Mendez v. Westminster.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we must also use this time to reflect on the barriers that have existed and continue to exist in our communities. My grandmother, June Hernandez, was just a few years younger than Mendez and lived through the early desegregation of the same California school district. Although my grandmother was integrated into better-funded schools before high school, she still faced barriers. Despite her academic ability and willingness to learn, she was labeled by her teachers as lesser. White children refused to talk to her or the other Mexican American children. As a result of her experiences in school, we, her grandchildren, were not allowed to learn or speak Spanish at home.

My grandmother pushed me to try harder in school and to focus on my homework, and she was one of the first in my family to celebrate my decision to go on to graduate school. She reminded me of the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have in my generation. Yes, I was a first-generation college student, and I could believe in the possibility of education past high school.

The school district that James Kent led in the 1940s? That was my school district in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the very least, my schools didn’t have administrators who said the same kinds of hateful things that people said when my grandparents were in school.

My grandmother’s courage and determination to finish school, even during times of change and ignorance, directly affected her children and grandchildren. We are who are today because of who she was and continued to be. Our access to education stems from the desire of young women and men who just wanted to go to school and who fought for equal opportunity.

And while the rhetoric on educational access has shifted, I know from personal experience that we never benefit from closing schoolhouse doors.

This post was written by AAUW College/University Relationships Manager Christine Hernandez.

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Carol Holzgrafe, past president of the AAUW Chico (CA) Branch, gives Cindy Wolff a certificate of appreciation for her work to improve equity in Chico schools.

“Why are there more opportunities for boys to play sports at this school than for girls?”

AAUW member Cindy Wolff asked this question in 2008 when her daughter was cut from the girls’ volleyball team at Chico High School in Chico, California. The school had recently reduced the girls’ volleyball team from 15 to 12 players, and Wolff noticed that several girls’ sports teams were smaller than the equivalent boys’ sports teams.

Wolff, a California State University, Chico, professor and director of the university’s Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion, quickly realized what her innocent question meant — the school was likely noncompliant with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which guarantees gender equality in educational opportunities.

This disturbed her. She didn’t want her tax money to go to “support the biases of others.” Sports equity is important to her because “sports participation of girls benefits the entire society,” she said. “It’s good for everyone.”

As a concerned parent and an advocate for equality, she met with the volleyball coach, the principal, and the athletic director about her concerns. None of the conversations led anywhere, so she compiled documentation about the school’s athletics program and filed a complaint with the district. Because her daughter said she faced retaliation at school, Wolff felt she had no other choice but to retract the complaint and file again later.

In fall 2009, Wolff filed another formal complaint against the district, which claimed that the complaint was not supported. Wolff met with the president of the school board. She was the first person who seemed to care, but she didn’t feel that she would be able to do anything. At a school board meeting on the topic, approximately 50 parents voiced similar concerns, but nothing happened afterward.

Wolff used her skills as a social scientist to collect more data. In spring 2010, she presented the data to the local AAUW Chico (CA) Branch. Former athletes and a Title IX expert also spoke at the meeting. Branch President Carol Holzgrafe said that Wolff’s presentation “blew us out of the water. The facts were so appalling, and we couldn’t ignore it.”

The whole branch backed Wolff, and in September 2010, they joined her in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX compliance. Wolff said the filing process was easy, and it only took two days for the agency to respond to say they would investigate. The complaint covered many aspects of inequality beyond just participation numbers. For example, the boys’ teams always had prime-time slots for their games, and only boys’ games had cheerleaders and band performances. Studies show that more people attend games that feature these perks, so the boys’ teams enjoyed more revenue, visibility, and publicity.

In March 2011, four people from the Office for Civil Rights spent four days canvassing the community and interviewing coaches, students, and other school personnel. They interviewed Wolff for an hour. Around that time, a reporter called the agency, and while Wolff was supposed to have anonymity, her name was released inadvertently and included in an article about the investigation in a local Chico newspaper. Sadly, Wolff received hate mail and faced retaliation in the community.

OCR’s investigation found that the school district was not compliant with Title IX. Before the report’s release on June 22, the agency began working with the district to bring them into compliance. After being mentioned in the post-investigation media coverage, Wolff received no hate mail — only messages of support.

An unexpected outcome of the investigation and report is that nearby school districts are changing too. For example, because some of the compliance measures include dividing up the prime-time game slots and adding junior varsity girls’ soccer and tennis teams, schools that Chico competes against also must become more compliant. Wolff points out that “one OCR complaint can evoke change in an entire region.”

Both Wolff and the AAUW branch are very pleased with the outcome of the investigation. Holzgrafe said, “This is the reason I belong to AAUW. We’re such movers and shakers. It’s so nice to identify a wrong and do something about it and have the organization behind us to do it.”

If you want to investigate whether your local school is compliant with Title IX, download AAUW’s Title IX Compliance: Know the Score Program in a Box to help you get started.

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When I was only 3 years old, my parents strapped my first set of ice hockey skates on me — a Minnesotan rite of passage. Before long, ice hockey became my passion. However, upon entering high school, I learned that there wasn’t a girls’ team. At that moment, I experienced a rude awakening: Gender inequality was the status quo in my community.

Armed with my strong convictions and leveraging Title IX’s mandate, I led my peers and community members to lobby the school board to create a girls’ ice hockey team. Testifying against sexist opposition just like the pioneers of Title IX once did, we successfully convinced the school board to establish a girls’ team, an experience that has forever shaped my perception of what one passionate and goal-oriented individual can accomplish.

This early experience not only led to higher education and athletic opportunities that I might not otherwise have had but also guided my personal and professional pursuits. I was fortunate to attend Amherst College, graduate with honors in psychology, and serve as a captain of the women’s ice hockey team. The skills I obtained and the confidence I built as an athlete and as a member of a team were invaluable, leading me to ultimately become an attorney and an advocate for equal opportunities for all people. Along the way, I have advanced important social causes, served in leadership roles traditionally held by men (including as editor-in-chief of the Rutgers Law Review), and empowered the next generation of women as a mentor and role model.

Recently, by winning a Good Maker challenge, I received funding from the National Women’s Hall of Fame to pursue a sports and leadership project for girls. The premise of the project is to host a sports and leadership clinic not only to inspire, motivate, and empower young girls but also to enable older female athletes to give back to their communities and help instill in the next generation the passion, drive, and commitment that is necessary to maintain and expand equal opportunities.

Ensuring the protection of these opportunities was unquestionably the key message of the National Women’s Hall of Fame 40th anniversary Title IX celebration in Washington, D.C., last week. I was fortunate to have been recognized as a new generation leader at this event alongside the true pioneers and leaders of the women’s rights movement (my role models). Many of the distinguished speakers and panelists voiced the concern that the next generation may fail to understand the significance of Title IX and simply take those opportunities for granted. There is much more work to be done, and that work is now in the hands of the next generation.

This point resonated with me because of the similarities between the obstacles that the Title IX pioneers faced and those that modern-day female athletes still encounter. Bernice Sandler, known as the “godmother of Title IX” because of her role in the development and passage of the law, spoke about having to coordinate bake sales and other fundraisers to buy equipment. This story reminded me of some of the hand-me-down equipment that my college ice hockey team received from the men’s team. Did the Amherst women’s ice hockey team have to win a national championship to prove its worthiness and finally receive its own new jerseys and equipment?

I was also reminded of my own experience when Neena Chaudhry from the National Women’s Law Center explained the rationale behind the current challenges to Title IX — that girls are not as “interested” in sports as boys. That premise is precisely the one I encountered and believed I overcame in high school, more than 15 years ago. I’d say this attitude is clear evidence that we still have work to do!

Linda Hallman, executive director of AAUW, concluded the panel with a strong and passionate call to action: “Get out the vote!” I could not agree more. What a simple yet effective means to protect Title IX and to ensure its commitment to providing equal opportunities for all.

Each of the other panelists provided their own amazing tales and calls to action. Other speakers included Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Finally, I’d be remiss to conclude without mentioning the ever humble, eloquent, and passionate women’s rights advocate Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN), the “father of Title IX.” What I appreciated the most about him was that despite his integral involvement in the creation and passage of Title IX, he was happy to take a backseat to demonstrate his admiration for all the amazing and accomplished women in the room.

From the Olympian sitting next to me to the executive sitting across from me, the women at this conference were awe-inspiring. I only hope that through my life’s work I can continue to advance their fight to provide equal opportunities for women and that I will find and create opportunities to share my passion with and instill the same ideals in the next generation of women!

This blog post was written by National Women’s Hall of Fame grantee Heidi S. Alexander, Esq.

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Last week, AAUW fellowship and grant recipients, local alumnae, and selection panelists gathered at the AAUW national office for our annual spring luncheon. In addition to enjoying lunch and dessert, women across generations and professional and academic fields made connections with one another.

Sarah Weilant, a 2011–12 Career Development Grantee, and Diane Holt, a Career Development Grant selection panelist, bonded over their shared passion for international work while two women who earned their grants in 1978, Margaret Conover and Nancy Lubin, met for the first time after receiving their awards more than 30 years ago. Conover and Lubin joked about how times have changed — fellows can now receive notification of their awards via e-mail. Each woman had her own story about how she first discovered that she had been selected as an AAUW awardee. In 2011, Destiny Aman was shocked when she saw her name listed as an American Fellow. Aman, one of the most charismatic AAUW fellows I have met, explained how she read the list about 15 times in disbelief and asked her housemates whether it was for real. Needless to say, there was plenty of laughter in the room.

Aside from jokes about dissertations written on typewriters, we engaged in a valuable conversation about mentorship. Each attendee spoke of her realization that a single action is powerful. Ayana Johnson, a 2010–11 American Fellow, recently learned that a young woman from California chose to study marine biology at the University of California, San Diego, after seeing a poster of Johnson in a local airport. Johnson explained that the student saw this poster and said, “Well, she looks like me. I could be a marine biologist too.” These stories illustrate how small things can have a large impact. Aman, for example, said that the simple act of asking to assist in someone’s research gave her the opportunity to spend six weeks in Madagascar.

The luncheon allowed us to get to know fellowship and grant recipients on a more personal level. The awardees made connections with each other and with AAUW. Coming together to share experiences, network, and discover common bonds is an important part of the AAUW experience.

Please know that our doors are always open to any fellow or grantee who is visiting Washington, D.C.! Get in touch by e-mail or by calling 800/326-AAUW.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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In April, the AAUW San Fernando Valley (CA) Branch worked with the Women’s Research and Resource Center at California State University, Northridge, to hold an event about campus sexual assault featuring campus Police Chief Anne Glavin. The event was made possible through an AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Campus Outreach grant.

Past AAUW President Sharon Schuster spoke to the student attendees about AAUW, our fellowships and grants, and some of our accomplishments, particularly the new research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School.

AAUW member Donna Marie Bernis spoke about the Campus SaVE Act, which focuses on preventing campus sexual assault. Then Shira Brown, director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center, introduced the police chief.

Glavin spoke eloquently about the policies and procedures that the campus police force employs in sexual assault cases and the support that is available for victims. She talked about the department’s welcoming environment and told students that there is a trained counselor on staff. Glavin introduced this counselor, Christina Villalobos, who spoke briefly about her role in the department and how she handles students’ problems confidentially.

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin speaks to students about campus sexual assault.

Glavin talked about other resources the department provides, such as self-defense classes, which can be taken for course credit. She described how the university has gone beyond implementing the national requirements of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act and guidance given by the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. She closed by taking questions from the audience. Cal State Northridge’s campus newsletter, Daily Sundial, wrote a nice article about Glavin’s presentation, which spread the event’s message beyond just the students who were able to attend.

To show their appreciation, AAUW branch members presented Glavin with a certificate of appreciation and a congressional certificate from Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). AAUW member Lane Sherman also gave the chief a flag, donated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), that had flown over the nation’s Capitol.

The event was successful in a number of ways. It ensured that Glavin’s important message and information reached students and AAUW members. The talk also connected our branch with the Women’s Research and Resource Center. The leaders at the center offered free use of their facilities for our future meetings, a resource we will certainly use. Also, there is a possibility that we will start an AAUW student organization  at Cal State Northridge.

Organizing this event took tremendous effort, and we considered cancelling it more than once. In the end, we were glad that we persevered and succeeded in putting on this wonderful and precedent-setting program.

This post was written by Jackie Zev, who has been a member of the AAUW San Fernando Valley (CA) Branch since 1982 and serves as the treasurer’s assistant and newsletter editor.

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How would you thank a woman who helped you achieve your career goals?

Teizeen Mohamedali, a 2009–10 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow, developed a lasting connection with the sponsor of her fellowship. Elisabeth Bathgate’s generous support helped Mohamedali pursue a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Mohamedali remains truly grateful for the support that Bathgate, a dedicated member of the AAUW Hayward-Castro Valley (CA) Branch, has provided over the years — both academic and personal. Because of this close friendship, Mohamedali has prioritized paying it forward in her career and in her support of women’s education.

Mohamedali has been academically curious since she was a young girl. She eagerly awaited the arrival of her parents’ subscription to National Geographic each month. As she flipped through the pages, she wished that she could be one of the scientists mentioned in the articles. Although Mohamedali had a passion for nature, when given the choice in high school, she opted to drop chemistry and pursue economics and art instead. But college offered a vast array of options, which allowed her to merge many sciences, including engineering, into her course work as an environmental science major. Her passion for science has blossomed even more since then, and she puts her talents to good use in the United States and beyond.

In summer 2009, Mohamedali and her husband volunteered with Sustainable Aid in Africa International in her home country, Kenya, assisting with water projects for primary schools in this western region. Mohamedali currently works as an environmental engineer on water quality projects at the Washington State Department of Ecology. For one project, which is devoted to improving the water quality of Puget Sound, Mohamedali performs engineering analyses to estimate current and future nutrient loads under different scenarios of population and climate change. This information is being used to develop a water quality model of Puget Sound, which will help predict what the water quality might look like in the future.

Regardless of her path — in government, at an NGO, or in an academic setting — Mohamedali will continue to be a positive role model for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). But more than that, she gives her talents back to her community — in the United States and beyond — and she would like to open up the possibility of STEM careers to more young girls. Mohamedali knows firsthand that one woman can make an impact — just like Bathgate did through her financial support and her friendship.

Whenever they need a reminder of how much women can help each other, Bathgate and Mohamedali can look to the unique gifts they exchanged. Bathgate made Mohamedali a kaleidoscope, while Mohamedali gave Bathgate — who loves bird-watching — a photo of a bird from a trip to Mount Kenya. Mohamedali has thanked her friend by being appreciative and academically curious — and by paying it forward. Sponsoring a Kenyan girl’s high school education in is one way that Mohamedali reminds herself of the importance of education for girls in her home country, where women have far fewer academic opportunities.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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Close your eyes, and imagine yourself back in your fourth-grade classroom. Most of you will remember your teachers, your little desks, and the important events that took place during that year. My most vivid memory is of being the line leader, the biggest honor a fourth-grader could receive. Only the students with the highest grades and the best behavior were allowed to be first in line and lead their classes around school. I thought that as soon as I became the line leader, I gained leadership skills. But new research suggests this may not have been the case. Evie Stone, a special education teacher at Vista Middle School in Van Nuys, California, used a similar system in her classrooms to motivate students. But when she realized that they were only doing the right thing because they would be rewarded, she stopped using this kind of motivation and instead empowered her students to take on leadership roles when they saw that something needed to be done. For Stone, this was the real secret behind cultivating leadership.

Other research has also found that rewarding students by placing a heavy emphasis on grades and prizes puts the growth of children’s internal motivation at risk. A recent study by Ronald E. Riggio, the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, found that leadership development starts in early childhood. Children as young as two can show specific signs that predict their ability to lead as adults, such as taking on new experiences willingly, supporting their peers, seeking knowledge about lessons from their parents, and committing to new activities. Simply put, a child who seeks to learn new things and who has parental support could become a leader later in life. This new discovery might mean that in classrooms, leadership is not simply a way to reward good behavior — it is an opportunity for continuous growth with the support of others.

And while leadership may stem from childhood experiences, even adults can build those skills. This year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders will help women who are in college or graduate school to develop their leadership skills. Every year, this event helps hundreds of women build their skills, thanks to workshops and inspiring speakers.

Empowerment and support from our parents, teachers, and mentors are important in our childhood years and continue to play a role as we enter into adulthood. So whether your passions and interests were fostered at young age or you are just on the verge of making your mark, you too can grow to become a leader.

Can you remember your first childhood leadership experience and the impact that it had on you? Or did your path to leadership start in adulthood?

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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