Celebrating Women’s History Month — and AAWCC

Participants in the 2023 AAWCC Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo: AAWCC)

President Joe Biden has proclaimed March 2024 Women’s History Month, marking the 30th presidential proclamation of this annual event. The first national celebration began in 1981, when Congress passed a proclamation recognizing Women’s History Week. (Yes, at first, women got just a week.)

Women’s History Month encourages us to look back in admiration and gratitude for those who came before us, and to identify how we can advance women’s positions today and into the future. This year’s theme, as noted by the National Women’s History Alliance, celebrates “Women who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.” 

There have been considerable gains for women in our nation’s history. There is, however, continued bias and discrimination based on gender. Further, women comprise a diverse group of individuals and other dimensions of a woman’s identity, especially race, create different lived experiences.

As we look to our community colleges and to all who work within them, there is a continued need for us to promote all women, especially those who have been marginalized, in their educational and professional pursuits. Our institutions, and our nation, are made stronger when all voices are heard.   

Out of balance

The American Association for Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC), an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges, was founded in 1973, predating the official acknowledgment and celebration of women’s achievement by almost a decade. As anyone reading this article surely knows, access to postsecondary education is the key for our students, our communities and our country. Those of us lucky enough to serve in higher education know that we provide the pathway to a sustainable future to our students and their families. 

The majority of students pursuing higher education in this country are female. In 2021, total undergraduate enrollment was comprised of 58% female students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Community college students are more diverse, racially, ethnically and socioeconomically than any other sector of higher education.

However, the leadership of higher education, as a whole, does not reflect the demographics of our students. For example, the American Council on Education’s 2023 survey of chief executives found that one-third of college presidents in all higher education sectors were women.

The community college sector is leading the way with 43% of women CEOs serving at one of our colleges. The overwhelming majority (73%) of all college presidents identified as White. It is clear we still have a far way to go to achieve full equity and inclusion. 

Developing and supporting leaders

From its inception in 1973, AAWCC has been committed to the ongoing support, professional development and elevation of women in leadership at community colleges. AAWCC supports the equitable treatment and success of women at every level of community college education and administration. An area of key focus for AAWCC is addressing the unacceptably low rates of women of color in leadership at our institutions.              

AAWCC is proud to offer annual regional scholarships for current community college students, or students who have transferred to a four-year institution and attended a community college in the last three years. We also offer an annual doctoral scholarship for women who are employed at a community college and are pursuing a doctoral degree. 

In addition, AAWCC offers a Leader’s Institute, which was founded in 1980. This annual weeklong intensive leadership development program provides learning, networking and mentorship opportunities for women at all levels of community college service.  

Annual conference back in person

It is also with great excitement that I share our AAWCC annual conference will be back in person this fall following several years of pandemic impacted virtual meetings. This year, AAWCC will meet for a multi-day conference October 31-November 2 in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary! “Leading Like a Woman, 50 Years Strong” is the theme, and will provide us an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, to assess where we are, and to chart our path forward. Throughout the event we will provide history of the organization, inspiration from past and present women leaders, and knowledge and tools for our attendees to develop their leadership skills. To find out more about AAWCC and upcoming events, please visit AAWCCnatl.org. 

The work toward equality and justice has never been easy. We are experiencing a backlash against even the words “equity, diversion and inclusion”. We here at AAWCC proudly stand with those who came before us in doing the work of advancing equitable treatment for all. We ask you to reflect this month on this moment in our nation’s history, on women’s history, and to join us in our important work.

About the Author

Suzanne Johnson
Dr. Suzanne Johnson is board president of the American Association for Women in Community Colleges and president of Green River College in Washington.
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