New Campus Club Empowers Female-Identified Students

There are clubs of every stripe on the Rivers campus, from chess to robotics to fishing. But until this winter, there was no club that specifically addressed the concerns and issues of girls and women. That changed in January with the launch of EMPWR (Enacting More Positive Change with Women at Rivers).
EMPWR was created by Hannah Lapides ’22, Sophie DuBard ’22, and Amanda Freeman ’23. The inspiration grew from a program set up through the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) at Rivers. CCCE director Amy Enright, who serves as faculty advisor for EMPWR, explains, “We partnered with a nonprofit called Close Up, which offers non-partisan civics experiences.” The particular program Rivers offered was called “Empowering Girls’ Voices,” and it met online for six evenings in the fall, leading up to the election. Enright said that 10 Rivers girls joined more than 100 peers across the country for workshops and discussions. “It was very inspirational to see all these girls from across the U.S., conservative and liberal, all so eager to lead,” said Enright. “Our girls were awesome.”
 
Out of that experience came the realization that there was a need on campus for spaces and organizations dedicated to the concerns of female-identified students. “After meeting once a week with Close Up to talk about social justice issues, we thought it would be a good idea to bring it to Rivers,” said Lapides. The three put together a proposal and a mission statement that declares, in part, “Our goal is to work to engage and empower students identifying as female through discussions, volunteer work, and advocacy about current events and social justice issues.”
 
The group wasted no time in taking action. One of the first activities they embarked on was a virtual advocacy training with CARE, an international humanitarian agency that works to defeat poverty and achieve social justice, largely through improving the lives of women and girls worldwide. Said Freeman, “Ms. Enright helped us work with CARE to meet with representatives from two Massachusetts lawmakers, educating them and asking them to support certain legislative priorities.”
 
The CARE sessions drilled down into the nuts and bolts of meeting with congresspeople and advocating for various policies. “The people at CARE helped us create a script; we practiced it and knew what we were going to say,” says DuBard. After a few sessions with CARE, the EMPWR members were ready to take the next step.
 
In mid-March, over spring break, they met with representatives from the offices of Massachusetts congress members Katherine Clark and Jake Auchincloss. “It was a little scary at first,” said Freeman, “but if you go in a group, it’s easier, and it makes you want to do it again.” Added DuBard, “We read from the script, but we also added in our own perspective and experience. That made it more personal and made the representatives more engaged.”
 
The student leaders say that club meetings have been well attended and that they’re looking for further opportunities to take action. But meanwhile, the ongoing conversations have been valuable—and, say the students, necessary. “It feels like a very safe and empowering space to talk about social justice issues relating to women,” says Lapides. “That hasn’t really existed at Rivers before.” There are challenges for female-identifying students at Rivers, the club leaders say—from feeling outshouted in class to being outnumbered in student government. “We want girls at Rivers to have their voices heard,” says Freeman.
 
And they believe that the concerns of women and girls override partisan politics. Toward that end, they have avoided calling EMPWR a “feminist club.” “Part of not labeling it that way is to appeal to more people. Maybe some students don’t call themselves feminists, but they agree with many of the issues,” says DuBard.
 
As for themselves? “Yes, we are feminists,” says DuBard. “Some people are scared of using that term, but I’ll go out on a limb and say most women believe in gender equity and support women’s rights.”
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