When we were in the process of acquiring YWTF [the Younger Women’s Task Force], we had a retreat in DC for each of the existing chapter leaders and as the youngest Board member at the time, I was invited to be the liaison. At this retreat, the young women learned what it would mean for them to become AAUW members. They were all horrified at the membership requirement- not because they didn’t have degrees and couldn’t join but because of the exclusivity of it. They couldn’t understand why we would have a barrier for people who might want to help support our causes. This is not the way they think. I don’t mean to dismiss the acquisition of a degree but it is less of a big deal to women today. I am 46 and there was never a question that I was going to college. Yes, I am proud of my degrees but I am not interested in belonging to any organization just because I completed college. I am interested in belonging to an organization that fights for women’s equity and rights and I don’t care one bit if the other members have degrees as well.
[Many of AAUW’s] … 170,000 members and supporters are [not members, but] people who engaged with us in some way-signed a Care.org petition, signed up for Action Alerts, donated money or time, attended NCCWSL, responded to a social media event (twitter storm eg.). Many of these fall in the demographic of under 50. Many do become national members. It is just highly unlikely that a 25 year old woman is going to join a branch where the next youngest person is 65. I did join as a 22 year old but my grandmother was a member and she paid for my membership plus they pulled me onto the board right away. I was attracted by the mission, not the fact everyone had a degree.
…[W]e absolutely cannot adequately fight for equity and inclusion of women at the decision making table when we only allow certain women/people to belong to our group….
AAUW Branches: Sacramento (CA), CHAR (CA), CA Online, Bath-Brunswick (ME)
Edited from an email sent on April 22, 2017
AAUW’s mission focuses on equity and equality. Equity and equality related to membership is critical to building a more inclusive organization. One way to do this is to open up the membership requirements for AAUW membership.
-Felisha Perrodin, AAUW Fayetteville (AR)
April 26, 2017
As a third-generation AAUW member (and a history major), I honor and respect our organization’s history, so my support of opening AAUW to anyone supporting our mission in no way dismisses the reasons membership has traditionally been restricted to those with degrees. But part of what has made AAUW last the test of time as a nationally recognized and respected organization is its willingness to evolve with the times. (Read the Membership History page on this website!)
My AAUW membership is important to me not because of the letters after my name, but because I firmly believe AAUW’s advocacy, education, research, and philanthropy is moving the needle on equity for women and girls. I gratefully welcome anyone else who shares that passion and is willing to work with us on that mission. Asking someone for proof of a degree diminishes the strength of our claim to advocate for ALL women. We’re better than that. It’s time to prove it.
April 11, 2017
The 2017 Voter Guide has been released with candidate bios, changes to the public policy program, and changes to the AAUW bylaws.
Again this year, this group collaborated to submit a change to the bylaws that would drop the degree requirement for AAUW membership.
Another proposal suggests adding a new category of membership that would be open to those without degrees, but which would not convey the right to participate in national governance or committees nor in the required administrator/treasurer offices for affiliates such as branches. This two-tier structure seems untenable in an organization focused on equity.
So we urge all members to vote for “Proposal 2” (the simpler one) – tell your friends, seek out new members and national-only members who might not feel connected enough to vote. While it will be a hard to get to the 2/3 vote needed to change the bylaws, if we improve on the 2015 40% so that 50% of the voters approve this change, the board — which has already said it supports the change — may be pressured to campaign more openly and explain the rationale that the change is for the good of the organization’s future.
I do have a degree, but I was 36 when I first got it after going back to school after a long hiatus. I didn’t know about AAUW earlier in my life, but if I had it would’ve been an organization I would’ve wanted to join and couldn’t have.
A degree shouldn’t matter when we are standing side by side fighting for equal pay, access to healthcare, stopping sexual assault and the myriad of issues we deal with every day. We need everyone to make change happen.
Our country changed because of the woman organizers during major movements in our history. Women of all ages, nationalities, and religions worked as one to move us forward. How can we as an organization for women and by women, exclude women.
-Dora McCarthy, AAUW Penoscot Valley (ME)
October 21, 2016
Yes, the discussions are starting about an amendment to national bylaws to drop the degree requirement for membership.
There’s one discussion, though, that’d I’d like to nip in the bud, namely:
If we drop the degree requirement, we’ll have to change our name.
Nope. We’ve admitted men since 1987, and no one is confused by the “W” part of the name. The National Organization for Women, NOW, may have named themselves and chosen a more appropriate preposition to acknowledge our male allies, but it is pretty clear that our core efforts surround equity for women.
Now things would be easier if we’d stuck with the plan to use “AAUW” instead of the “words” of the name. If we’d been more consistent when asked “what does AAUW stand for” with answers like
- It’s not an abbreviation, but the name of an organization that promotes equity for women and girls.
- We’re a national membership organization that works for equity for women and girls and our local projects are …
- We have a strong advocacy program that’s working for laws and policies that …
- Or whatever your favorite elevator speech might be
instead of taking the easy way out and saying
- American Association of University Women
which just raises more questions like, “Oh, at which school do you work?”
In addition, our degree requirement for membership has little to do with the wide range of campus programs we support for College/University Partners
- Workshops like Elect Her and Smart Start
- Campus student organizations and the annual national student conference
- Grants for Campus Action Projects and Campus Outreach Program
- AAUW’s long history as one of the largest funders of graduate student women through its fellowships program
So the “U” is firmly embedded in our organizational DNA, and welcoming those who have chosen a different path but wish to join us in our fight for equity will not change that.
The strength of AAUW is its mission, not the background of individual members. When ALL who share the mission work together, we will be a better organization. The time for focusing on the individual letters in our name is long past – we allow men to join. We should not create or maintain barriers for the involvement of any woman who supports our mission and wants to contribute toward our goals.
-Jamie Pardau, AAUW Kona (HI)
June 20, 2015
Join Marsha Miller and take a picture of yourself with this sign showing your support for open membership.
If you wish, upload the picture and post a link in a comment. You may also email the picture to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we get enough we’ll post a gallery of the supporters.
But do share to your networks!
We must practice what we preach about diversity and inclusiveness, and provide a place where girls and women seeking to further their education can find role models and mentors.
-Marti Sladek, AAUW Downers Grove (IL)
May 23, 2015
I understand and greatly appreciate the reasons why the 1881 founders and their descendants stuck to the degree requirement. As a 30-year member, I had no problem with it when I joined. As a member in 2015, the degree requirement is not only fairly meaningless, but it is becoming dangerous. We see ourselves as inclusive but others may see us as cliquish. Just as other AAUW initiatives, especially the Legal Advocacy Fund, have grown beyond their barriers, unless we make the possibility open to the widest reasonable group, I think this stance will lessen our appeal and make some difference, even a small one, in our efforts to grow, reach prospective members of ALL ages, thrive and be relevant.
-Marsha Miller, AAUW of the Wabash Valley (IN)
May 18, 2015