Widgets Magazine

Student groups work alongside each other to empower women

Multiple student groups exist on campus that complement each other in empowering women, but each group adds its own twist to the conversation. Women’s Coalition (WoCo), a self-proclaimed “generalist” group, advocates for gender equality for all, whereas more pre-professional groups, such as Stanford Women in Business (SWIB), Stanford Women in Computer Science (WiCS) and Stanford Women in Medicine (SWIM) aim to close gender gaps in different fields.

Women’s Coalition

The Women’s Coalition serves two functions: First, it acts as an umbrella organization for other student groups, Stanford Community Centers and Volunteer Student Organizations by supporting them through sponsorships and collaborations. Second, it hosts its own events that aim to educate the Stanford community on important gender issues.

“Although we are the Women’s Coalition, our mission is more expansive than that of gender equality on campus and awareness of gender issues not necessarily specific to women, but [rather] how men, women and people who identify as neither can engage in equal footing on campus and society at large,” said Hannah Meropol ’16, the president of WoCo.

This week, WoCo’s theme is body positivity, and they will have wellness workshops and a photo campaign about statements such as “My body can…” and “I love my body because…,” emphasizing the beauty of different body types. WoCo also has regular programming in freshman dorms on gender norms and sexual health. The group aims to create a space to learn about gender stereotypes and highlight how gender stereotypes affect everyone’s daily life.

“We don’t want to be branded as a certain type of feminist, since there are so many types of feminism, so we’re trying to be diverse in our outreach and diverse in our programming and send a message that everybody is part of this gender equality movement,” Meropol said.

“And it’s not really just one type of woman’s fight or that the fight for gender equality should be approached in a certain way,” she added. “There are really a lot of different ways to express feminism.”

In contrast with pre-professional women’s groups, members of the Women’s Coalition also have regular discussions about gender issues every meeting.

“What draws people to us is the community,” Meropol said. “We are inclusive and participatory, and we don’t just represent a woman or man interested in one profession.”

Stanford Women in Business

Similar to WoCo, Stanford Women in Business also aims to combat gender norms and stereotypes but does so through giving women the tools they need to become leaders in business and whatever fields they end up choosing.

“Business is a great way to teach women to be leaders,” said Priyanka Jain ’16, one of the three presidents of SWIB. “A lot of women in our group are women who are interested in non-profits or social entrepreneurship, but what’s awesome is that none of these women only live within that one interest. They take a more zoomed-out perspective and want to be leaders in that field.”

Stanford Women in Business also has a wide-reaching community with over 500 active members and over 1,000 recipients on the mailing list.

Because there is no undergraduate business major at Stanford, the group also holds bootcamps for reformatting résumés, teaching women how to pitch themselves in interviews and learning about investment theory, among other topics. Their goal is for the women within the group to become better resources for one another.

“You can’t be a leader if you can’t present yourself in an interview, or if you don’t have a résumé that isn’t picked up,” Jain said. “We’re focused on giving girls the skills to get their foot in the door and then the skills that they need to move up the ladder.”

Stanford Women in Computer Science

Unlike SWIB, Women in Computer Science is tied to a specific academic department. WiCS is an organization focused on building a community of women who are interested in computer science — a continually increasing number, as computer science has now become the most popular major for women at Stanford.

“We’re trying to create a cohort and make sure everyone feels included and welcome, especially in a male-dominated CS culture at Stanford,” said Emily Tang ’16, one of the co-presidents of WiCS.

The organization hosts casual dinners, where CS faculty, professors, alumni and students can get to know each other and share advice. They also host different workshops and speakers; for example, there is an upcoming Lean In Workshop in collaboration with Facebook on Nov. 12. Additionally, the organization also has an industry mentorship program, in which Stanford students are paired with a woman currently in the industry.

“When you’re with other people like you, it feels like a support system,” Tang said. “Battling the male-dominant culture means creating a voice for women and creating a community and a support group where women are reminded of all the stuff they have, and men are more aware of issues from all the events we host.”

Stanford Women in Medicine

SWIM also focuses on closing the gender gap in a certain professional field: medicine. Though the title may suggest that the group is just for people who are pre-med, the group is for anyone interested in medical fields, whether it is physical therapy, biomedical design or surgery. SWIM aims to create a community of strong women who will go out and close the gender gaps in medicine.

“Women are just as capable in these STEM fields and leadership positions,” said Megan O’Brien ’16, one of the founding members of the club and current co-director of the mentorship program. “Yes, there are some difficulties we might face, like if we want to have children or to get married in med school or to have a child in med school or residency. But that doesn’t mean we’re any less capable.”

Human biology, a popular major for students thinking of medicine, is currently the second most popular for women at Stanford. However, stereotypes still exist regarding what specialties women may end up in.

“It’s super awesome that more and more women are going into medicine,” O’Brien said. “But still, if you talk to women in the medical field or read articles, women kind of feel like there are certain fields they’re more likely to belong in, such as OB/GYN, primary care or dermatology.”

“I think realizing that there are other places for them and places for leadership position for them is a big issue,” she added.

Founding member and co-director of the mentorship program Megan Alexander ’16 spoke about one of the group’s recent speakers who presented on challenges she faced in medical research.

“[The speaker] didn’t feel that she could speak up for herself and get into publications even though she was doing the majority of the work,” Alexander said. “That happened about 10 years ago. Things might be changing, but that’s very recent.”

To combat this negative phenomenon, SWIM aims to create a community of like-minded women to help guide each other along their medical tracks and be there for each other — whether through a quick coffee break, a lunch, or email.

Similar to WoCo, SWIB and WiCS, SWIM also has a mentoring program that pairs both freshmen and sophomores with juniors and seniors and also juniors and seniors with medical graduate students. The group also invites speakers to share their experiences as women in the workplace.

Though each women’s student group may have different focuses, the groups all aim to build strong support systems for women on campus.

“We’re all a part of the same dialogue, just coming at it from different angles,” Alexander said.


Contact Anne-Marie Hwang at amhwang ‘at’ stanford.edu.