Student leaders travel to speak at national feminist conference


The Appalachian Online

Lovey Cooper

Four Appalachian State University students traveled to the 11th annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference put on by the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington D.C. last weekend.

The event featured activists from around the nation who spoke on reproductive justice and eco-feminism, as well as intersectionality and issues facing women in foreign countries. It served as a forum for young feminist leaders, in high school and college, to ask questions, learn about issues they aren’t familiar with and hear what others are doing to create change in their own areas.

Senior political science major Maddie Majerus said she has always hung out with a progressive, more liberal crowd since high school. She joined the LGBT center at Appalachian during her sophomore year, which she said tied her politics to the campus and led her to connect with other people doing progressive work at the university level.

She recently expanded her work with an internship last summer with the North Carolina pro-choice organization NARAL. Earlier this year, she helped start a reproductive justice club at Appalachian.

Majerus got involved with this conference after sending an email to the organizer after meeting her at a political march last year. She spoke on a panel for other attendees about how to start a student group on campus, along with four other students and one faculty advisor. The group answered audience questions about funding, support and how to navigate on campus between groups with similar missions.

The main lesson she offered to aspiring organizers is to make the most of their time on campus, but to not allow a cohesive group of people to leave their achievements behind at a university once they leave.

“Your legacy will leave with you if there’s nobody equipped to take over,” Majerus said. “I had people help me and we struggled through this, so why would I let someone else struggle?”

Additionally, people in the region want to support each other and attend events. Starting from scratch to make a club happen is intimidating, she said, and she was more than eager to share her club’s approved constitution and her local connections as a jumping point for other hopeful organizers.

A lot of nonprofits are good at utilizing college campuses, she said. Conferences like these connect students to national organizations and local chapters to help them partner up and make networked connections.

“Here’s a group of all these people who are learning about new things and are connected to all these people and have all of these resources on campus, why not ask a group that is working on an issue to work on that issue together?” Majerus said.

Senior women’s studies major Rachel Clay also spoke on a panel at the conference, on the topic of bringing campus activism to state capitals to incite broader social change. She was originally supposed to be in the panel on intersectionality, but upon checking her resume, organizers saw that she was more suited to speak on the topic of her own experience with voting rights suppression on Appalachian’s campus.

She has been involved with LGBT panels since her freshman year, and has worked as a desk shift volunteer in the women’s center. She is a founding member of the female sexual expression club LIPS, and is the current vice president of Appalachian social justice educators. Off campus, she works as an organizing fellow and Boone team leader for youth social change group Ignite N.C., based in Durham.

“I don’t really see that much of a difference [between universities and the state] the way that most people do. I don’t find students to be in as much of a bubble as a lot of people try to say that we are. I don’t think that we’re that different than society,” Clay said.

Changes in voter ID laws in 2016 will require residents to have a state-approved form of identification in addition to a student ID or their homes state’s identification. Clay said this is a form of discrimination that practically only applies to temporary residents, most of whom are students.

This issue links to feminism because patriarchal structures exist everywhere and manifest in different ways, she said, but there are also problems that are unique to universities, which is something that she enjoyed addressing as the conference.

“In the big picture, if you plan on evaluating where these problems are coming from, the roots of these issues aren’t confined to universities whatsoever,” Clay said. “Even student debt comes from exploitation of students and capitalistic use of the university system. The issue is capitalism.”

Colleges also have unique resources that can be organized to help remedy these – such as the ability to book rooms, engage large audiences and ask for money from the school for events.

Overall, the two seniors see their experiences at the conference as a partial solution to the problems of isolation in radical groups.

“Usually you go to a conference and you meet someone super cool, but they’re from California and you have to say goodbye forever,” Majerus said. “You can talk, but you can’t really plan an event the same as with someone from South Carolina where you might be able to.”

The two other students from Appalachian to attend the conference, junior biology major Hannah Kinder and sophomore exercise science major Ashley Kruzel, were her students as an Emerging Leaders coordinator last semester.

STORY: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter