AAUW CT College University 2014 Fall Conference

Focus on Sexual Violence on Campus

Students, survivors, and leaders took part in a day designed to explore various aspects of sexual assault, its ramifications, and possible controls. The conference was held at Trinity College in Hartford on October 3 in Mather Hall. More than 85 men and women gathered to hear speakers and to discuss ways of addressing this important issue on our campuses and in society. As press coverage grows and conversations increase, prevention of sexual assault or harassment and safety for all on a campus have become priorities for AAUW members. The day’s program was fashioned in response to those priorities.

Dr. Melinda Rising opened the program with a tribute to the late Dr. Carol R. Virostek. Dr. Virostek was a strong advocate for AAUW CT and women’s equity. As a noted educator she used her considerable intelligence, experience, and wit to benefit all with whom she worked and played. After a moment of silence in Dr. Virostek’s memory, Dr. Rising, AAUW CT CU Relations Chair, welcomed attendees and introduced the day’s theme as well as Donna Haghighat, Co-President of AAUW CT.

Ms Haghighat noted with appreciation all those who are involved with AAUW CT and highlighted various program. She concluded by thanking Trinity College for hosting the event and especially Laura Lockwood who was the point person on campus.

Laura Lockwood, Director of the Women and Gender Resource Action Center at Trinity, spoke next. After a warm greeting and setting out the necessary housekeeping logistics, Ms Lockwood introduced the President of Trinity College, Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney.

President Berger-Sweeney welcomed everyone and was very appreciative of AAUW CT’s efforts to tackle the issue of sexual assault on campus. She asserted that one of her goals is to “set the environment for progress on campus” so that everyone can feel safe. Dr. Berger-Sweeney asserted that ” it is more than a matter of law. It is a moral imperative.” She praised the students for their contributions to major programs four times a year that raise awareness of the issue among the college community. She also noted the importance of shared dialogue in order to learn from the students and to use that information and creativity to place Trinity at the forefront of solving the problem of campus sexual assault.

The keynote speaker of the day followed: Ms Anne Hedgepeth. Ms Hedgepeth is the Government Relations Manager from the Washington, DC Main Office of AAUW. As she put it, “I am a lobbyist.” She also does policy work. She declared herself to be ” a huge supporter and defender of Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act.”   As a lobbyist she explained how her work frames the issues to educate using data as well as testimony from students or plaintiffs. She urged the audience to read the 2006 Drawing the Line Report found on the AAUW web site. That report is based on answers from students when they were asked about sexual violence and harassment on their campuses. They revealed what were the campus responses to those experiences and how that in turn affected their ability to learn. She concluded that “violence and harassment are barriers to access.”

Ms Hedgepeth called on the attendees to focus their efforts on answering the question of why is sexual assault so frequent on campus and what Best Practices might be used for ways to prevent or deal with it. She reminded the group that AAUW is one resource and thanked them for the opportunity to speak about this important issue.

The invited speaker of the day was Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT. The Senator opened with acknowledging his pride in AAUW’s high approval rating “despite hating rating systems.” He has a long-standing interest in the topic of sexual assault and has been active in gathering information through the seven round tables he did around CT. Through them he was affirmed in his belief that “we need to do more” to deal effectively with this “stunningly under reported” problem. He decried the lack of transparency on campuses now and wants an anonymous national survey to ascertain what is really being done to deal with and prevent sexual violence. His message then focused on what should be done through both legislation and campus policies to provide survivors of sexual assault/harassment with appropriate recourse.

Blumenthal laid out the basics for a bill he and two colleagues, McHaskell and Jillibrand, are taking through the Senate to provide due process as well as relief. This bill would give a campus a set procedure to ensure fairness and justice. There would be a trained confidential advisor to give guidance on the choice of whether or not to go to the police, or to use the internal campus channels for investigation and disciplinary proceedings. There should be a professional investigation, in any case, and a uniform adjudication system in place on every campus along with a sliding scale of penalties relative to the severity of the violations. In his view the obligation is to the survivor, not the college. Another goal of the legislation, which has begun to get bi-partisan support from Senators Rubio, Grasley, and Warner, is to change the culture of blaming the victim and establish a standard of affirmative consent: “clear, knowing, verbal, and voluntary…can’t be assumed.” Lastly, Senator Blumenthal noted President Obama’s It’s On Us Campaign and closed by saying, “I’m encouraged.” His presentation garnered hearty applause.

After the Senator finished fielding questions, the next item on the agenda before lunch was a panel presentation moderated by Dr. Karla Spurlock-Evans, Dean of Multi-Cultural Affairs, Title IX Coordinator, and Senior Diversity Officer. Each of the four participants gave a short summary of what prompted their involvement with the issue and then fielded many questions or comments. They were: Donna Palomba: Founder of Jane Doe No More, Author and Women’s Advocate; Julian Wilson: Graduate Intern, Men’s Initiative, Southern CT State University (SCSU); Viridianna (Ana) Medina,’16, Co-Coordinator, Students Encouraging Consensual Sex (SECS), Trinity College; and Anne Hedgepeth, conference keynote speaker.

Donna Palomba wrote a book, Jane Doe No More, detailing her experience as a rape victim during home invasion. Because of her treatment by the police, which ranged from indifference to threatening her with arrest, she “had to go from victim to warrior” and sued the officers. It took years but she won her case. She subsequently founded and runs She is an advocate and public speaker who believes that “knowledge is power” and that society needs to end the silence surrounding sexual assault. “No more blame; no more fear.” Ms Palomba concluded by calling for education for everyone on the subject.

Julian Wilson spoke next of his work with the Men’s Initiative at SCSU which focuses on gender issues.   He facilitates small group conversations with students in order to encourage a non-judgmental environment, honesty, and openness. Topics include prevention of sexual assault through bystander intervention, defining what it means to act like a man, and what is consent. Other difficult subjects come up as well during these sessions. Mr. Wilson believes he is able to connect with other students as a knowledgeable peer and lead them to see that they do not have to buy into the “men need to be in control concept taught by society and media” if control means sexual dominance.

Viridianna (Ana) Medina from Trinity College began her segment with a personal story of being assaulted as a girl. Through her association with Trinity’s Women and Gender Resource Action Center, AAUW, and her studies she learned not only about what constitutes sexual assault but about empowerment as a way to not be a victim. She declared that “empowerment is a big thing” and that “students helping students is essential” for learning about sexual assault and its prevention. Ms Medina assists with SECS programming and encourages other students to learn about the subject, to know their options and to support each other if an assault crisis occurs to one of them.

Anne Hedgepeth closed out the panel presentations by informing the audience of the new steps being taken on many campuses. Collecting statistics has expanded to include stalking incidents, rapes, and domestic violence. There are different types of prevention education programs, connections with local rape crisis centers or other resources, and a toolkit available on the AAUW web site. She noted that AAUW wants “to help students elevate the issue” and to do effectively that there needs to be a feedback loop. has models for people to use and is “a great hub for resources.”

The audience was appreciative and had many provocative questions that the panel fielded. As discussion progressed it was clear that attendees were very involved. Follow-up conversations during lunch reflected that energy and enthusiasm. After lunch the last panel convened.

Madison Norwich moderated the National Conference of College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) panel. Panelists were Michelle Guerrero, Cepea Burton, and Ulricke Joseph. All had attended last year’s conference held in Washington, DC. and all had high opinions of the experience to share. Also each had some affiliation with a campus women’s center which encouraged their involvement with AAUW to hone their leadership skills and pass it on. Favorite parts of the Conference were: A Brand New You workshop “led by great women who inspire you”(Michelle); networking opportunities “to meet others who have the same goal-to be a success” (Ulricke); Overcoming the Perfect Girl Myth workshop (Cepea). All want to return this year and praised the scholarships that make it possible for many students to attend.

The last activities of the day were regional breakout sessions with reporting-outs. Closing remarks came from Dr. Doris Arrington, Dean of Students at Capital Community College. She thanked and praised the panelists and speakers. In briefly summing up the day, she cited “the need to change the climate on campuses” and noted how valuable this conference was in the effort “to educate the whole person.” Those in attendance agreed with applause and departed.

The CU Fall Conference evaluations were collected. Results will be reported in the next e-newsletter.

Submitted by:
Dr. Patricia T. Owen, Emerita
Northwestern CT Community College

Saying Goodbye to Carol Virostek, an AAUW Champion Whose Legacy Lives On


We surprised Carol at the 2013 National Convention with an endowment named in her honor.

We surprised Carol at the 2013 National Convention with an endowment named in her honor.

September 29, 2014 “You changed my life!” That’s what a group of college students kept saying as they surrounded Carol Virostek at the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. These students attended the conference with the support of AAUW of Connecticut and their schools, and Carol was one of the reasons they were able to do so.

Carol hugged each of them, eager to hear about the new confidence and skills they gained from this experience. But more than anything each student wanted a picture with Carol, the person who made it possible for them to dream bigger.

This is one of the many stories in my mind as I remember Carol, who passed away earlier this month. Anyone who met her was struck by three things: her vision, her positivity, and her empathy.

Carol’s AAUW legacy runs deep. She served as AAUW’s College/University Committee chair from 2007 to 2014; she was part of AAUW’s Program Integration Committee; and she had a rich history in leading AAUW of Connecticut as state and branch president, state and branch program chair, and state and branch college/university relations chair.

Kate and Carol, center, with AAUW staff members Catherine Heffernan, left, and Christine Hernandez, right, at the 2013 National Convention in New Orleans.

Kate and Carol, center, with AAUW staff members Catherine Heffernan, left, and Christine Hernandez, right, at the 2013 National Convention in New Orleans.

Her vision for women’s equality was based in AAUW’s investment in the next generation of women leaders. Throughout my six years at AAUW, my work with our campus leadership programs would not have been possible without Carol. When AAUW discussed the future of college and university initiatives, it was Carol who rekindled the organization’s commitment to these programs.

Together, Carol and I paved the way to triple our college/university partner membership to nearly 1,000 schools and to add thousands of e-student affiliates to our AAUW membership. Together we worked to grow the National Conference for College Women Students Leaders from just over 400 participants in 2008 to nearly 1,000 in 2014. We guided thousands of college women into the AAUW community by strengthening our National Student Advisory Council, Campus Action Projects, and newer programs like $tart $mart and Elect Her.

Carol was the most positive person I’ve come across. She faced life’s ups and downs with a spirit of resilience and class. Carol’s daughter, Leslie Virostek, summed this up best during a speech she gave at the 2013 AAUW National Convention, when we surprised Carol with an endowment named in her honor. Leslie took to the stage and said, “This is her life philosophy: There is no challenge that can’t be overcome. All you need is a proactive approach, a way to include others, a positive attitude — and, of course, the appropriate item of clothing.”

Carol with her daughter Allison Hopkins, left, and her sister Kathleen McCarthy.

Carol with her daughter Allison Hopkins, left, and her sister Kathleen McCarthy.

Carol approached all of her work with empathy. In her interactions with members, staff, and students, she sought out ways to connect with others. She focused on others’ strengths and was the first to offer to be a sounding board and adviser.

I posted on my personal Facebook page about Carol’s passing and heard from people she’d inspired with kindness and mentorship all over the country, a testament to her connection to others.

Just like those students at NCCWSL this year, I get to say that Carol changed my life. She taught me to dream big and give generously. Her life reminds me, and us, to be grateful for the friendship, mentorship, and inspiration we find in each other through AAUW.

International Fellowship Recipient Helps Branches Celebrate 125 Years of AAUW Grants and Fellowships

Taking part in the celebration of the 125th anniversary of AAUW fellowship and grant funding were: Front row: Alice Rietz, state co-president and branch member; Sofia Espinoza Sanchez, Yale graduate student and International Fellowship recipient; and Barbara Dunham, branch co-president. Second row: Elaine Quayle, EOF chair, and Marie Morch, past co-president.

Taking part in the celebration of the 125th anniversary of AAUW fellowship and grant funding were:
Front row: Alice Rietz, state co-president and branch member; Sofia Espinoza Sanchez, Yale graduate student and International Fellowship recipient; and Barbara Dunham, branch co-president.
Second row: Elaine Quayle, EOF chair, and Marie Morch, past co-president.

On April 16, the Shoreline Branch celebrated the legacy of 125 years of AAUW funding of fellowships and grants at our annual joint Educational Opportunity Fund meeting with the Lower Connecticut Valley Branch. The program, held at the Clinton Congregational Church hall, was attended by over 40 women.

After an introduction focusing on the 125th anniversary by Co-President Barbara Dunham, three speakers carried on the theme of AAUW’s long-standing support of education for women.

State Co-President and Branch member Alice Reitz discussed the recent Tech Savvy program at Central Connecticut State University, co-sponsored by our State Branch. Alice described how the program energized students to consider careers in the areas of science, technology, math, and engineering, and encouraged support by the parents in attendance.  She thanked us for our monetary contribution to the event.

Branch member and former co-president Marie Morch described how being the recipient of a local scholarship meant so much to her as a show of support from other women in attaining her career goals.

Then EOF Chair Elaine Quayle described how this year, Connecticut is hosting two American Fellows, one Career Development Grant recipient, and One International Fellow—Sofia Espinoza Sanchez of Peru, the third speaker.

Sofia is a third-year graduate student at the Thomas Pollard laboratory at Yale University, where she is pursuing a PhD in molecular biochemistry and biophysics. Her PowerPoint presentation and comments helped everyone understand how her research on the relations of proteins to the ability of cells to move or stay stationery has important relevance to the treatment and prevention of disease.

Sofia also described her work with the Research Experience for Peruvian Undergraduates program, in which current graduate students studying abroad support the development of scientific capacity in Peru by mentoring a new generation of Peruvian scientists.

AAUW CT was awarded one of 8 National AAUW Tech Savvy Event grants for 2014! Click here to learn more.

AAUW awarded Campus Action Project grants to two Connecticut community colleges.

  • Showing Moms the Power of STEM in Connecticut
    Gateway Community College
    To address the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers, the Gateway Community College team will launch a comprehensive program with a special focus on women students and their daughters. The participants will participate in workshops and take field trips to STEM employers in the region.
  • Connecting Student Parents with Mentors in Connecticut
    Norwalk Community College
    The team will address the issues that women student parents face and work to increase the transfer rates of these women to four-year institutions. Through a selective mentoring program, student-parent alumnae from the community college will provide resources and a one-on-one support system to help current student parents graduate from the community college and transfer to a four-year institution.


  • Many thanks to Melinda J. Rising, AAUW CT. College/University Partnership Liaison, for planning an excellent Fall Conference.
  • Kudos to the Bridgeport Branch for being 8th in the nation for AAUW Branch Giving!