Letter to the Idaho Branches

On March 19, AAUW Idaho co-presidents, Kathy Scott and Julie Custer send the following letter to their members. We thank them for allowing us to share their document here, and we encourage other branch and state leaders to send similar notices.

Subject: We Support AAUW’s Proposed Change in Membership Requirements
To: All AAUW Idaho Members

Over the past four years we have visited all Idaho branches multiple times. Regardless of the size of a branch we are always impressed with AAUW Idaho members and their commitment to AAUW and their community. When reaching out via telephone or email, we have found members to be well informed and ready to take action that will lead to positive change for women and families. We are now asking you to take an action that will expand the voice and reach of AAUW: vote to eliminate the degree requirement for membership.

As we travel the state and at AAUW Idaho board meetings we always discuss the issue of membership. We have conducted membership training and talked about ways to grow membership. In those same discussions we have identified barriers to growing our branches. The biggest barrier, especially for the branches in rural areas, seems to be the degree requirement. We are an organization that advocates equity yet we are exclusive (some have said “elitist”) in our requirements for membership.

We have been relentless in asking Idaho branches to grow because if we are to have a voice in the issues of our time, our voice must be backed by numbers. At any function or event, we continually try to recruit new members. When we talk to prospective members about AAUW many of them are interested in learning more: “How can I join you in working towards AAUW’s mission?” We are then faced with having to ask them if they have an associate or higher college degree. This is a difficult question to ask. It may result in embarrassing the prospective member if they don’t meet the education requirement. Never mind that their passions, their accomplishments, and their contributions are significant, and we share the same values about empowering girls and young women. They cannot join AAUW because they do not meet a requirement that was established over 130 years ago.

Over the years AAUW has modified other eligibility requirements to reflect the ever-changing social climate:

  • 1882 – Degree from a specific list of colleges or universities
  • 1949 – Degree from any accredited four-year college or university
  • 1987 – Membership extended to male college graduates
  • 2005 – Membership extended to include graduates who hold an associate or equivalent degree from a qualified educational institution

How many potential members are we losing because AAUW has this eligibility requirement? We can answer that question to some extent based on conversations we have had over the years and around the state with interested individuals:

  • We lose younger women and men who meet the education requirement but don’t want to join an organization that seems elitist to them.
  • We lose women and men who share our vision for the future but because of a myriad of circumstances they were not able to attain a college degree. This did not keep them from having careers or joining other activist organizations. They just cannot join AAUW.
  • We lose donations from organizations that support our mission but do not understand why one must have a college degree to work towards gender equity.

Some members object to open membership because they wonder “What will our name be?” AAUW is the fourth name we’ve had in our years of being a membership organization. The name was not changed when AAUW started accepting men as members, or people who had a community college degree. What we call ourselves is not the end-all in our decision to become a more inclusive organization.

While AAUW is an organization that fully supports women getting a college education in the field of their choice, we need to recognize that education comes in many forms. Over our professional lives we have worked with many women and men who did not have a formal degree. This is not a measure of intelligence…sometimes it is the lack of opportunity or choices made early in life that are difficult to reverse. If you look at the statistics, in 2016, 46% of non-Hispanic white women aged 25 to 29 years completed four years of college. For African American and Hispanic women, the numbers are more stark at 25% and 31% respectively. This suggests AAUW cannot promote equity and diversity for all women and girls if the organization maintains exclusionary membership requirements.

We need every woman and man who supports our mission – empowering women and girls – to join us in the ongoing challenge of achieving gender equity.

When online voting begins on April 25, we encourage you to vote “Yes” to eliminate the college degree requirement for membership in AAUW.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Kathy Scott and Julie Custer
AAUW Idaho Co-Presidents

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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….

-Charmen Goehring
AAUW Branches: Sacramento (CA), CHAR (CA), CA Online, Bath-Brunswick (ME)
Edited from an email sent on April 22, 2017

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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

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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.

Sandy Kirkpatrick
April 11, 2017

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Voting near for 2017 Changes

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.

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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

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Just stop it!

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.





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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

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Show your support!


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 info@openupaauw.org.  If we get enough we’ll post a gallery of the supporters.

But do share to your networks!

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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

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