When I started high school, I heard murmurs of stories about sex and birth control. I witnessed the shame and violence inflicted upon a friend when our peers learned about her abortion. I had an overwhelming desire to protect her, but I too had many questions about reproductive health.
Around the same time, I was asked to join the Teen Advocate Program at Planned Parenthood of New York City. As an advocate, I learned about issues in access to reproductive health care, abortion, domestic violence, and sexual assault. As I continued to learn about women’s issues, I felt a greater responsibility to pay it forward, to educate my peers, to visit policymakers and make my voice heard. Throughout my college years I continued to volunteer for feminist organizations, and joined clubs where I could plan events to discuss women’s issues. My volunteer experience, in many regards, has navigated my interest in student affairs.
As student affairs professionals we encourage our students to develop a sense of civic responsibility, to be active in community projects, and to broaden their perspectives of global issues. But, how can we encourage our students to pursue volunteer commitments, without modeling the way? As a staff member at John Jay College, where students are encouraged to become fierce advocates for justice, I couldn’t shy away from the challenge.
For the past year, I volunteered at the National Organization for Women (NOW), as part of the 2015 Activist Alliance. I committed 4-8 hours per month to join a volunteer team that promotes women’s reproductive rights, advances women’s economic development, and aims to end violence and discrimination against women and girls.
As a volunteer at NOW, I applied the project management and event planning skills I learned as a higher education professional to execute Activist Nights – public events to raise awareness of gender injustice in New York City, which often ended with a political call to action. I spent a great deal of time organizing a workshop on intersectional feminism, which explores how our identities are also avenues of oppression. It certainly was not an easy task, and often times my fellow volunteers and I had differing views about intersectionality, but this experience added new insight and dimension to my volunteer work.
Joining this organization, was the first time, post college graduation, where I was surrounded by professional women from a variety of disciplines who came together to stand in solidarity against gender injustice. My participation has taught me that volunteering is about reciprocity and coalition building, it is not a story of the haves and the have nots. Volunteering is about giving your time to a cause, and in return you gaining firsthand knowledge of a community that will likely enhance your life.
My volunteer experiences at feminist organizations have had long-term effects of my personal and professional life. I currently serve as the Program Manager at the Women’s Center for Gender Justice, where I aid in student development and amplify student voices, while teaching grassroots organizing techniques that supplement their education. I have successfully bridged my passion for women’s rights and my career in student affairs.
To anyone searching for a volunteer opportunity, my advice is to find something that intrigues you, invest time in your community, and pay it forward!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance