Each March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, honoring the impact that women have made throughout history. We hope to feature the critical female voices among our SGA as they share what leadership and change-making mean to them. Today, we share a piece written by Serena Saunders, one of our off-campus outlying representatives and deputy College Park City Council liaison, as well as founder of the SGA’s Black Caucus and Womxn’s Caucus.
Women’s History Month is special in many different ways. It honors the lives of the women who have come before us, whether they lived private lives in the shadows of history or public lives full of praise and accomplishments. It remembers the women who helped us get where we are today, who fought for the generations after them. It gives us ways to get involved in the work of the women trailblazers today, who continue that important legacy of changemaking.
For me, what makes Women’s History Month special is its visibility in my daily life. Every experience I’ve had at UMD has been marked by women who are dedicated to improving campus and the wider community. I’ve been involved in a good handful of student organizations that empower women to be the change they want to see in the world.
I first got involved on campus my freshman year by sitting in on the SGA’s Committee on Academic Affairs, which was then led by Fasika Delessa. She taught me that getting things done isn’t easy, but it’s worth it when there’s a real, tangible impact on students’ lives. That year, she spearheaded the initiative to create an intern bus to Annapolis and inspired me to get more involved in the SGA because of the good work that’s possible, that makes a difference in whether students can access all the opportunities available to them.
I moved on to MaryPIRG my sophomore year, when Ary Papadopoulos was president. She empowered me to learn, to lead and to eventually step up to an executive board position. It was that kind of hand-holding until I felt I was ready that showed me that I could take on public-facing leadership — something I’d been terrified of before. We may not have agreed on everything, but being under her wing told me that even when people challenge you, their opinions — and how you handle them — are critical to your development as a leader.
Later in my sophomore year, my classmate Jacqueline Ford wanted to start a new professional fraternity on campus. It wasn’t a simple task, of course, and she was always honest with me about what it would take to establish KOA, the one and only public policy professional fraternity at UMD. She taught me that radical honesty is the best way to motivate people — people won’t respect you if you don’t respect them enough to tell them the truth.
I came back to the SGA this past fall, with the realization that my time on campus — halfway done, since I’m a junior now — would all be for naught if I wasn’t paying those lessons forward. It’s why I wrote the bills for both the Black and Womxn’s Caucuses, so that identifying SGA members can be as supported as possible in all their endeavors within the organization. Both are up and running, doing the important work of empowering current members and inspiring future ones. Seeing the caucuses’ impact this semester has only affirmed me in my belief that empowering others is central to any kind of leadership.
That happened simultaneously to joining the student leadership team, with Catherine Scott and Morgan Johnson, of Girls 4 Girls UMD, which provides a global mentorship experience to female students on campus. Like KOA, it’s a new project, so getting it off the ground this semester has been a good deal of hard work. It’s all paid off, though. There are 19 women in our inaugural mentorship circle, and just thinking of them warms my heart because I know that those skills I’ve learned from my time at UMD are being passed down communally.
Women’s History Month is special to me because it brings to mind all the strong, important, impactful women student leaders who have changed my life for the better. Women student leaders make this campus run, so here’s to them.