Posts Tagged ‘diversity’


Daniel Schwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, National Student Advisory Council member Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi was an intern at the White House, where she hosted a briefing on the importance of youth mentorship in low-income communities. Ojewumi, who is herself passionate about disability rights, recently spoke with White House Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley about her work as an advocate for disabled youth.

As a woman living with a disability, what experiences sparked your interest in advancing the lives of disabled youth?

When I was in junior high school, a younger friend of mine at another school was thrown into a dumpster by some bullies at lunchtime and could not get out. No one in the school reported him missing from class, and it wasn’t until later that evening when he didn’t come home from Boy Scouts that his parents went to look for him. The next day, he carried an 18-inch baseball bat to school to defend himself and was expelled for harboring a weapon. When his parents reached out to a number of advocates — including my mom — to mediate with the school, the principal responded that “boys will be boys” and that my friend “should just get used” to the teasing.

The teachers and administrators at the junior high school I went to would never have tolerated that type of behavior, and it blew my mind that there were people in the world working with children who thought it was OK to treat young people with disabilities horribly.

I was lucky — until I got to high school and my guidance counselor told me, “Kids like you don’t go here.” I was enrolled in honors classes, was already taking steps toward becoming a nationally recognized [disability] advocate, and had been planning on ending up on the U.S. Supreme Court someday, and here was this man telling me that he didn’t think people like me should attend his school. Unlike most youth with disabilities, both of my parents had the same disability as me, and both were college-educated advocates in their own right. My mother quickly stepped in and appealed to the principal, who was embarrassed and apologetic for the behavior of his staff member. But I never got over the idea that an adult, a leader in the school, just by looking at me decided that I wasn’t eligible.

You are a mother, a wife, and a key member of the Obama administration. How do you juggle all of these roles?

When I had first joined the administration and wasn’t yet pregnant, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was hosting a conference call, and someone asked her about balancing work and family. And she responded that if you want a family, you have to make it a priority — you can’t wait until the time is right, because there’s never a time that’s right. In a lot of ways, this really spoke to me and in some ways gave me permission to start a family. I also have a completely amazing husband who is truly my best friend and champion. He makes me a better person in every respect, and from the moment I found out I was pregnant, he has worked to make his life more flexible. It also helps that I have a boss who has children of her own.

What are your responsibilities and goals as White House director of priority placement?

The president has asked us to create an administration that reflects the diversity of America. It matters who sits at the table. My role is reaching beyond the Beltway to communities that often don’t get a seat at the table and bringing those voices into the administration. The best part of my job is reaching out to a candidate who has submitted their information on whitehouse.gov and telling them that I’m calling from the White House and would like to talk to them about a potential role in the administration. Most of the time people think that I’m prank calling. But to reach out to someone who truly believes in the work that we’re doing and wants to improve the lives of all Americans and say “hey, we want your voice in this discussion” — it’s amazing.

As a youth development specialist for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, you created new avenues for employment. What does equal employment opportunity mean for the thousands of young people who are living with disabilities?

Equal employment means — to me — going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be. Equal employment opportunities mean that youth with disabilities do not have to limit themselves to working in the eight F’s of disability employment: food, filth, filing, flowers, fetching, folding, friendly, or festive. That’s not to diminish those important jobs, and it doesn’t mean that if that’s what you want to do that you shouldn’t pursue those paths. But you should not find your goals limited to just those things.

July 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How has the ADA impacted your life?

A few years before the ADA passed, my mom was on the tenure track at the college she worked at. She ended up being denied tenure, and one of the reasons she was denied was that she was only able to use the bottom six inches of the chalkboard. My mom had worked her whole life to improve the lives of students with disabilities, and here she was being directly discriminated against because of her own disability. Post-ADA, she received tenure.

How is the Obama administration working to increase the presence of people with disabilities in the American workforce?

The president believes that the government must serve as an example. In 2010, he signed Executive Order 13548, which was designed to make the federal government serve as a model employer for people with disabilities. Agencies are developing training programs for their [human resources] staff, and agencies are to develop model recruitment and hiring strategies. I think the president also understands how important it is for the public to see people with different types of disabilities in his administration.

What do you believe is the largest obstacle facing youth with disabilities?

False expectations — from our families, from society, and from ourselves.

What words of wisdom or advice can you give our readers, some of whom are among the thousands of disabled young women and girls the White House is advocating for?

My desire for you is that you be successful in whatever you want to do in your life. You don’t need to be officially working as an advocate at a disability organization or a center for independent living. We need people with disabilities succeeding everywhere in the public and private sectors. If you want to be a chef, then go for it, but I better see you being awarded Michelin stars. That’s how you lead — by serving as an example and being successful in something you love to do and not conforming to anyone’s expectations of what they think you should do. I’d also encourage you to look for mentors outside of your community. In joining the Obama administration, two of the best mentors I’ve had are leaders in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community. They’ve taught me so much about being an effective political appointee, working with diverse communities, and how to maneuver the challenges of leadership. I don’t doubt I am more effective in my job because of both of them.

As an Obama administration official, which of your accomplishments has been most meaningful?

I feel like we accomplish something extraordinary every time we appoint someone to a position in the administration who brings a new voice to the table or a new set of personal experiences that contribute to the carrying out of the president’s vision for America.

When did you decide to become involved in public policy?

I grew up with a passion for politics. I remember being a little kid and getting to stay up late on election night watching the returns come in. I came to Washington in 2004 in large part because I felt that I hadn’t done my part in the 2000 election and wanted to make a change.

When a family friend, Paul Miller, was appointed as the deputy director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs and White House liaison to the disability community in the Clinton administration, it really struck home that someone like me could be asked to serve the president. And when I’d hear Miller talk about it, he’d sound so matter of fact about it when speaking to crowds but among friends was so excited about the chance to serve, the chance to show his colleagues on a daily basis that people with disabilities could and should fully contribute alongside their non-disabled peers.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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Packed into a buzzing meeting room in the Dirksen Senate building, I took a long look around. As a summer intern at AAUW, I was thrilled to be at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing addressing the impact of the Wal-Mart v. Dukes Supreme Court decision — a case throughout which AAUW has remained a strong advocate for the women plaintiffs. Glancing at the other attendees, staff, and witnesses, my mind jumped to the question it seems hardwired to ask: How many women are here? How many are testifying as experts? How many of them are women of color?

It did not take a lot of counting to answer the last question: one.

The witness panel included three white men, one white woman, and one black woman — Betty Dukes herself. Two of the three men presented testimonies sympathetic to corporate concerns, and the two women testified in support of the plaintiffs, emphasizing the necessity of being able to address gender discrimination in the workplace through the court system. Though many men are effective advocates for women’s issues, I suspect that the hearing would have been very different without those two voices on the panel.

A recent demographic survey of 319 congressional staff members paints a stark picture of the lack of sexual and racial diversity in top-level staffers. The 2011 results of the quadrennial survey reveal that 68 percent of top staffers are male and an overwhelming 93 percent are white. One former congressional staffer noted that because staff members often serve as gatekeepers for events like Senate hearings, a lack of diversity among staff can have serious policy implications for women and people of color. Or as Professor Melissa Hart — one of the women witnesses in the judiciary hearing — put it, we tend to tap people on the shoulder who look like us.

For me, it was a reminder of the critical importance of a simple idea: Women have to be a part of the policy making process on issues that affect women. With women making up only 17 percent of Congress, AAUW knows that closing this long-standing political leadership gap requires more women running for office. It reinforces the importance of programs like Elect Her, an AAUW initiative that empowers and trains women to run for office at all levels — an effort that could change the face of politics in America.

A welcome face lift, if you ask me.

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Layne Amerikaner.

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During last week’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, students learned about opportunities in different professional fields, attended workshops that provided helpful skill-building tools, and took part in seminars that allowed them to share their experiences with leadership, street harassment, planning their futures, and balancing family and school. The workshop topics were as diverse as the attendees.

Here are some highlights of what this year’s conference offered these student leaders:

  • NCCWSL co-sponsor NASPA presented an overview of their Undergraduate Fellows Program, which provides students with mentoring opportunities while they explore the career field of student affairs in higher education.
  • In the Do You Fear the “F Word”? Feminism Explained workshop, students focused on the changing definition of feminism. Participants were able to voice their different views on what the term feminism means to them and how it impacts their leadership styles. Students explored the idea that feminism is a personal choice and a term that is redefined from individual to individual.
  • Street harassment is an issue that does not get enough attention, but it is something that women deal with every day. In the workshop Hey Shorty! Ending Gender-Based Violence in Schools and on the Streets, created by Girls for Gender Equity’s Sister in Strength program, participants viewed the film Hey Shorty. After watching the film, which was created by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the women shared their experiences with street harassment and discussed the work Girls for Gender Equity is doing to help young girls.
  • AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Jessica Kelly presented the Identity Development and Leadership workshop along with two of her colleagues from George Washington University. The workshop was a discussion on intersecting identities, privilege, being an ally, and what those things mean for being a good leader. Kelly said after the workshop that “visually, it was apparent that we had a diverse group of participants, and as we started to dig deeper into identity, we discovered more and more things that made each person unique and things we all had in common. Not only was it obvious how wonderfully diverse the participants were, but it was also obvious how motivated they all were to have a meaningful conversation.”

There were dozens of other workshops at this year’s conference that were inspiring and practical for students. If you had a great experience at a workshop that was not listed here, please feel free to post about it in the comments section below.

This post was written by Leadership Programs Intern Donnae Wahl.

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Goodwin Liu

Update: On Thursday, May 19, the Senate voted on whether to move to full debate on Liu’s possible confirmation. The cloture vote did not muster the 60 votes required to overcome that procedural hurdle, failing 52-43 on a near-party line vote.

Over the last few years, the confirmation of judges has become a political issue in the U.S. Senate, with many well-qualified nominees’ confirmations held up by various procedural and political delays. For example, the Senate has confirmed only 62 percent of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees in the last two years. Despite this obstruction, the White House has made increasing the ethnic, gender, and racial diversity of the federal judiciary a priority — almost half of the nominees are women, 21 percent are African American, and 10 percent are Hispanic, the highest percentage of nominations ever for these groups.

The case of Goodwin Liu, a renowned legal scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, illustrates the Senate’s obstruction of the administration’s attempt to foster a diverse judiciary. Although Liu was nominated in 2009 to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, his nomination is finally being voted on this week, most likely on Thursday, May 19.

AAUW supports the confirmation of Liu and urges AAUW members to call their senators and tell them to vote to confirm him. To contact your senator, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202/224-3121 and then ask for either one of your senators’ offices. Once connected, ask for the judiciary staffer and tell her or him you want your senator to vote yes on the confirmation of Goodwin Liu.

AAUW believes that Liu is well qualified to serve in this important post. Our courts need judges who will uphold our constitutional values of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Confirming qualified judges is the best way to ensure that the courts and Congress do not turn back the clock on the decades of progress that women and girls have achieved. Liu has an established record of protecting women’s rights and has supported Congress’ prerogative to combat sex discrimination and enforce women’s rights through legislation.

Judicial nominees should have views and records that are within the mainstream of legal thought, and Liu’s record is well within the mainstream. Tellingly, Liu’s nomination has received support from across the partisan and ideological spectrum. One of Liu’s many supporters is Richard Painter, who worked on the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito as President George W. Bush’s chief ethics counsel. Painter wrote that Liu is an “exceptionally qualified, measured, and mainstream nominee” that the Senate should “vote to confirm.” Former Whitewater prosecutor and appeals court judge Kenneth Starr has called Liu “a person of great intellect, accomplishment, and integrity” and “an extraordinarily qualified nominee.”

AAUW monitors federal judicial nominations because so many of our fundamental rights and liberties have been established and are protected by the federal courts, Supreme Court precedents, and the enforcement efforts of the executive branch. To learn more about AAUW’s work on this issue, please visit our position page.

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I am Denise M. Decker, a longtime AAUW member who has held several leadership positions on the national, state, and branch levels. I credit AAUW with having changed my life in 1975 when I was awarded an American Fellowship to complete my doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. I have been blind since birth, have taught French and Spanish on the university level, and have worked for 30-plus years for two federal agencies, most recently as a senior policy analyst in professional and organizational development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

I truly believe that achieving my life’s goals would have been significantly more difficult without my AAUW fellowship, which enhanced my credibility and allowed me to compete more successfully in the workplace. I wanted to give back to AAUW, which had done so much for me.

I therefore became a member in 1978 and have maintained my steadfast commitment to AAUW for more than 30 years, serving on national, state, and branch boards and international delegations to Japan and the former USSR. As a diversity trainer and coordinator for AAUW in the 1990s, I was privileged to design the disability access policies that AAUW adopted and still uses.

As a member of the AAUW Arlington (VA) Branch, I have been a membership co-vice president and Legal Advocacy Fund chair, and I have designed several diversity programs, one of which won the branch a monetary award from the National Organization on Disability. This award was used to assist special needs programs in three Arlington schools. I am also an active member of the AAUW Washington, D.C., Branch, where I have worked with the D.C. board to revise branch bylaws and design a Lunch Bunch program to provide college and career guidance to high school girls and boys.

In 2009, I was selected as a member of the AAUW Leadership Corps. One of my goals in the corps is to continue my diversity commitment to AAUW and to help states and branches create change-management strategies that enhance opportunities for women and girls today and into the future. My Seeing Eye dog, Wonder, and I look forward to serving AAUW in this and other capacities in support of its mission-driven programming and strategic advancement. This year’s convention will offer me the chance to do just that by serving on the host committee. Hope to see you there!

This blog was written by AAUW Leadership Corps, AAUW Arlington (VA) Branch, and AAUW Washington, D.C., Branch member Denise M. Decker, Ph.D.

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When I was teaching high school in California five years ago, we took about 90 students on a weekend retreat to address issues of diversity. One night the boys and girls were taken into two separate rooms and asked to list all the negative messages they had ever heard about the opposite sex. After a couple of hours, the students were brought together in the same room with the boys seated facing the girls.

I felt physically sick as I heard the nauseating and completely inappropriate messages the boys had joked about in their separate room. When it came time for the girls to discuss their feelings about the messages, the stories of sexual abuse began pouring out.

When I first proposed writing a blog to address the disturbing trend of rape simulation video games, I had no idea it would bring me back to that weekend, but, in reading the online comments about these video games, I could hear echoes of the jokes, the stories, and the pain from the retreat.

Many people (myself included) had never been exposed to rape simulation games even though one of the first offenders, RapeLay, created by the Japanese game design company Illusion Software, came out in 2006. It seems like most of the buzz, indignant or otherwise, didn’t really start until this past spring when a new game, Stockholm: An Exploration of True Love, “in which you must … abuse your kidnapped victim to get her to fall in love with you,” started to sell on Amazon. (This game has since been banned by Amazon.)

An article about the banning of this and other rape simulation games was posted to Digg a few days ago. I was shocked to find that, of the 306 comments, many of them were jokes about the game content or expressed disappointment over the ban. Okay, maybe the majority of the comments were tongue-in-cheek, but for some of us rape isn’t really that funny.

One commenter wrote “No means yes. Right?”

Are we still asking that question these days? (P.S. The commenter’s screen name was thefreak.)

This is exactly what I’m talking about. When those high school boys went into that separate room, they were joking and teasing about these trashy messages they’d heard for years. It was all fun and games until they were sitting in front of the girls, watching and listening to them respond to those same messages. Reading the reactions online, I saw this same gender divide in the conversations: while the men were joking around on gaming sites, the women were expressing disgust on women’s blogs.

In some comments I read, people were arguing that rape is no more violent than killing, so why is rape banned and not shooter games. The issue is that in our society we know that killing is wrong, and if you get caught, you will usually be punished for it. On the other hand, the consequences are not so clear and simple with rape. First of all, according to RAINN, 60 percent of all sexual assaults are never reported. Beyond that, if a victim does find the courage and support to report the assault, she is often discredited or the case mishandled. Rape simulation video games continue to blur that line, making sexual abuse a tool of entertainment.

If there is one message we can take from this mess, I would say it only further illustrates the point that women are needed in the gaming industry. The hope is that with more women in the industry, there would be a deeper understanding and sensitivity about the harm that can be done by games such as these. It would be like finally getting the boys and girls in the same room to dialogue and perhaps find a better use for advanced technology tools than simulating sexual violence.

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In light of Justice Souter’s recent announcement that he is stepping down from the U.S. Supreme Court in June, my colleagues and I were joining with the pundits in pondering who his replacement might be. Many are speculating that President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee will likely be a woman to fill the space left by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With a nod to the notable lack of diversity on the current bench, others have suggested that the prospective justice will be of Hispanic descent, possibly even a Hispanic woman. And, since these are lifetime appointments, it is also assumed that the nominee will be under the age of 60.

That’s what others are saying. Who’s your pick? What qualities or characteristics do you want to see in the next Supreme Court justice? Obviously, the need for extensive judicial training and experience goes without saying. But does it necessarily have to be a woman, or would you be satisfied with a man who advocates on behalf of women’s issues? Flashing back to discussions of whether AAUW should support Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, would you support a woman nominee just because she’s a woman? Let us know what you think. AAUW’s new report on President Obama’s first 100 days analyzes how women’s issues have fared under the new administration; how do you think they will fare under a new Supreme Court?

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