After Donald Trump became president, freshmen Sarah Riback and Meredith Riley felt compelled to create a space on campus for women to discuss issues that pertain to them.
To accomplish this, Riback, a government and politics major, and Riley, a government and politics and philosophy major, started a chapter of American Association of University Women at the University of Maryland to “fight back at this larger force,” Riback said.
AAUW is a national women’s rights organization with more than 1,000 branches across the country.
The group had its first meeting on Feb. 13 in the Cambridge Community Center, where about 25 students gathered to write letters about issues they cared about to U.S. representatives and senators. The letters’ topics included Planned Parenthood, Standing Rock and Title X, the Family Planning Program. Participants also wrote to the new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as well as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
“People seemed excited to do something tangible, like writing a letter,” said Riback, who is president of AAUW.
Talia Metoyer, a freshman elementary education major, wrote a letter to DeVos urging her to be more supportive of public schools.
DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education on Feb. 7 with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. Devos’ critics say she has no experience working in education and are concerned that her “school choice” activism will harm public schools.
“I’m a proud product of public schools,” said Metoyer, adding she hopes DeVos will ease back on her private school agenda. Metoyer said she is excited to see AAUW branch at this university.
“It gives a lot of students a voice,” Metoyer said. “It was also nice to see not only girls, but guys here too.”
Freshman economics and mathematics major Rami Knio wrote to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) about Gorsuch, who some see as an opponent to reproductive rights and fear may overturn the landmark decision made in Roe v. Wade.
Knio, who said he attended the meeting out of curiosity, added that he felt very welcomed and enjoyed the freedom to talk about important issues that affect women.
“I’m not usually able to talk about feminism casually and strongly,” Knio said.
Emily Shallbetter, a freshman vocal performance major, said she began looking for women’s rights groups as soon as she came to this university but didn’t find many on campus that focused broadly on women’s rights.
“I’m hoping that [AAUW] can progress in the future to become larger and have a bigger presence on campus,” Shallbetter said.
Shallbetter said she hopes to see the group host some LGBT-focused events as well to show that feminism is inclusive to everyone.
Riley, vice president of AAUW, said she was pleased with the turnout of the group’s first meeting.
“I’m very excited about where we go from here,” Riley said.
AAUW is currently working with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, a state affiliate of the pro-choice organization NARAL Pro-Choice America, on a campaign to make emergency contraceptives more accessible on campus, Riback said.
Riley and Riback said that they also hope to partner with other clubs on campus for different events.
“We want to make our club as intersectional and as diverse as possible,” Riley said.