Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wake Women Attorneys Luncheon

Hello everyone! So we're practically a week out from our big trip to New York! I'm getting more excited (and anxious) each day, but I know that all of the Fellows will have a great experience at this year's CSW.

I wanted to talk about my opportunity last Tuesday to meet with members of the Wake Women Attorneys (part of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys). I had the exciting chance to grab lunch at Tyler's Taproom in Raleigh with several of the members, and explain my research, experience with WomenNC, and excitement about the upcoming trip. Initially, I was nervous talking in front of a group of successful women, many of whom weren't interested in women's rights advocacy. However, after a brief presentation at the start of the meal, many of the women seemed eager to ask questions and offer advice. As we all ate, we discussed their work in various firms around North Carolina, their views on women's education, and many even offered STEM statistics they had heard over the course of their career. I was excited that they were interested in not only my research, but the status of women's education as a whole.

Overall, it was nice to be able to discuss my research with strong, professional women outside of WomenNC. It was also a great opportunity to answer questions and explore new topics about women's education I hadn't considered before. Hearing outside views and having discussions with women who weren't as familiar with my studies provided a great perspective that I hope to use to strengthen my research further.

Until next time!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

WomenNC Dinner Event

As you may know, we had our WomenNC event this past Thursday at NC State's Hunt Library. It was an amazing experience. I was so honored to be a part of the event and hear Eleanor Smeal speak.

 Everyone spoke so well, and I absolutely loved Sarah's answer to Ms. Smeal's question about "What is one thing you would do to change the world?" Sarah's response to take one step of courage was so eloquent and inspiring. I really liked how she brought up Beth's experience in working to create the organization WomenNC.

When the time came for Eleanor Smeal to speak, I was blown away by how inspiring she was. She has a wealth of knowledge and she really knows how to captivate an audience. I was so excited by all she said, and I kept thinking to myself "This is everything I feel." Eleanor Smeal inspired me to work harder at trying to portray my passion when I speak to an audience. I know that is currently one of my weaknesses. I hope that when I present at the UN, I am able to show the audience just how passionate I am about advocating for reproductive justice and other women's rights.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reflecting on February 20th and Looking Ahead

As I'm sure many of you know, on February 20th WomenNC held its annual fundraiser at the beautiful Hunt Library on NC State's Campus. It was a wonderful event where volunteers, community members, and advocates for women's rights from all walks of life came together to be introduced to this year's cadre of Fellows and hear from the inspiring Eleanor Smeal.

In many ways, this was our first public appearance as a group and I believe we represented ourselves and WomenNC proudly. The event gave us an opportunity to introduce our topics and also participate in a relaxed group panel discussion with our moderator, Eleanor Smeal. She is highly regarded among gender advocates in the United States and abroad as a pioneering feminist, a gifted orator and an inspiring presence. She has twice been the President of the National Organization for Women and remains active as a lobbyist in D.C. It was invigorating to share the stage with her and listen to her thoughts on the way forward for true gender equality.

We were asked to comment on a wide range of topics in addition to fielding questions from an inquisitive audience. My favourite question was asked by Ms. Smeal. She inquired as to how our experiences thus far and future experiences at CSW were likely to affect our futures. All answered with poise; many Fellows commenting on how this experience has caused them to look inwards, galvanizing their passion for women's rights. Personally, I spoke as to how I realized that being an advocate for gender equality and human rights can always be a core activity of my life--it need not be mutually exclusive to pursuing a career in finance, or law, or public health.

One thing that impressed me during the event was the feedback I received after exiting the panel discussion. For one, I was able to connect in person with lovely women from NCWU, the organization with whom I have partnered. Secondly, I was approached many times by audience members who wanted to express to me how important they felt it was that I, a man, was also on stage speaking about the importance of women's rights. One woman told me about her son, who recently decided to major in Women and Gender Studies at Appalachian State University. Specifically, she recounted how it was reaffirming for her to know that young men everywhere are getting involved in these issues.

These experiences have reaffirmed for the thousandth time my interest in making the most of my experience at CSW in just a few short weeks. Speaking with audience members affirmed the importance of strong networking during the conference. The diversity present at our event also reminded me of how multifaceted the women's rights movement is. In order to maximize my time at CSW, I will spend some time looking into other Fellows' topics in greater detail. I think it is important we have some understanding of a wide range of issues so that we are more comfortable entering panels and discussions on topics in which we have not specialized.

All in all, I'm feeling reaffirmed and ready to tackle final preparations during the next few weeks.

Sincerely yours,


Monday, February 10, 2014

Special Shout-Out to Everyone

Hello everyone!

I hope everyone has been getting excited for the upcoming fundraiser dinner on February 20th! I've been inviting everyone to the big event next week and I contemplated dropping fliers from a plane, just to reach out to a wider audience (kidding, of course).

This past week has been full of WomenNC-craze and working on papers and presentations makes me feels closer and closer to March. From Tarheel Talk, to our first dress rehearsal, I'm sure I speak for all the fellows when I say it's crunch time for all of us. I have to thank everyone who's been so supportive throughout the journey, especially my mentors, the WomenNC Board, other fellows, and the PURPOSE Institute. Their advice has been indispensable and having a vast arsenal of opinions gives my research definition and substance. When I compared my first rough draft to the most recent one, I could see where all of the advice and aid has come into play to improve the quality of my paper. Overall, it's safe to say everyone involved has played a major role in helping to advance my research.

As you can see, I really wanted to use this post as a moment to acknowledge the help and support I have received since I became one of the 2014 Fellows. Without the backing of the experts, fellows, mentors, and my mom (who reads a new portion of my paper every week--shout out to you, Mom), I would not be able to shape my research into the form it has taken today.

Until next time!
Alex Polk

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Amazing Fellows

This past Wednesday we had our first dress rehearsal; wow, I was so impressed. Each fellow did an incredible job. Although the six of us are fellows for the same program, I really did not know too much about each fellows topic and partnership. However, Wednesday I was able to learn all about each fellow's research. Sarah presented first. Her topic focuses on the importance of youth involvement in human rights/activism/etc. and her partner is WomenNC. I thought it was so clever of her to partner with the amazing organization that is giving us the opportunity to present at the CSW in March. Sarah is so well spoken and holds herself very well. Noreen presented next. She discussed the role of men and boys in eliminating violence against women. I really like that Noreen approached her topic (violence against women) in a less conventional way. Many people often forget the important role that men play in helping to improve the lives of women...after all, men do make up about half of our world's population! Amy also presented on violence against women and the importance of healthy relationship messaging. I was excited to hear that her partner was the Compass Center and she discussed their teen outreach programs. I actually did a project on the Compass Center's program Teens Climb High last semester, and I think it is a really phenomenal program. It makes me happy to know the the Compass Center will be mentioned at the CSW. Max's presentation on the importance of a standalone gender goal was really personable and presented really well. He really has such a confidence when he speaks. Finally, Alex presented on the importance of involving women and girls in the STEM fields. I knew least about her topic and learned a bunch. Alex is great at bringing the perfect amount of humor into her presentations. I feel so honored to get to present with the 5 other fellows. They have all done amazing work and I have learned a lot from their presentations. I cannot wait to go to the United Nations with them. I can tell it will be the experience of a lifetime!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Changing Tack: Research Updates pre-CSW

Hi all,

I just wanted to give you all a quick update on the status of my research in lieu of several upcoming deadlines and, of course, the main event itself in March.

After careful consideration and much thought, I have shifted years a bit. My work will still be focusing on the Post-2015 agenda--the topic I consider to be most relevant at CSW. However, I will now be focusing on the link between women's empowerment and gender-based violence (GBV), using a local organization as a call to action for the creation of a standalone gender goal in the Post-2015 agenda.

This new focus will allow me to tie together the various threads essential for a deeper understanding of GBV, while analyzing the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals. Further, I have found some interesting (... and perhaps unsurprising) links between the determinants of gender-based violence and women's empowerment, making clear a widely held belief of mine that women are less susceptible to GBV in spaces where they are empowered.

This research, while representing a decided change of tack, is interesting and crucial. Life is a series of compromises and every learning experience is valuable.

Thank you--