by Margaret Pence
Advocacy Fellow, YWCA USA
This summer, I had the opportunity to be on fellowship with the YWCA USA. Not having a YWCA in my hometown, I had little idea what the mission of the YWCA was before accepting this fellowship.
I come from a sheltered, Midwestern background. I was born and raised in South Dakota, where I have had little exposure to ethnic diversity; my friends in Minnesota are constantly educating me on stereotypes so I won’t offend others. Back home, the only thing that seems to matter is whether there is a drought or a blizzard; what happened in the rest of the United States or around the globe didn’t really seem to matter or impact what was going on in my world. My exposure to the rest of the world was based solely upon what I read in the Economist or Christian Science Monitor.
To broaden my horizons and make my mark in the world by entering the political sphere, I decided to major in International Relations and Communication Studies, two majors that have helped me relate to others and understand conflicts around the world. In order to gain a true understanding of the world and apply my academic learning, I applied to The Fund for American Studies program (TFAS). Through TFAS, I took courses at Georgetown University and was given an opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C. The YWCA USA’s advocacy department extended an invitation. I gladly accepted and began to prepare myself to adjust to the D.C. “professional” life.
But there were other adjustments I wasn’t expecting. Back home, I was able to jump in my car and go to the grocery store whenever I wanted to; in my Georgetown neighborhood, I had to learn the Metrobus route before I was able to buy and make toast. I was also challenged by my roommates to leave my comfort zone by giving up familiar fast food options. They created a list of foods I had to try – such as grilled plantains, hummus, and sushi – before I left D.C. and I grudgingly accepted.
Interning with the YWCA was a natural transition that fulfilled my desire to understand and connect with the rest of the world. On my first day, I was tasked with researching the history of the YWCA and its work of providing the right to vote for many Americans. I learned that the YWCA represents more than just women, but also minorities and other individuals who are disadvantaged under the law, embodying what it means to be a truly progressive organization. I went on to gain a further understanding of the YWCA by attending Congressional briefings on Capitol Hill. At these briefings, I learned about the empowerment benefits of Title IX and the effects of sex trafficking in the United States.
I truly fell in love with advocacy when I had the opportunity to attend rallies in D.C. with the entire advocacy department and other YWCA interns. I went to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) rally and joined Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Judy Biggert (R-IL), and singer Michael Bolton in urging Congress pass a bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). My ultimate high point was standing on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court at the historical moment when the Affordable Care Act was ruled constitutional. The feeling of knowing my access to healthcare was now constitutionally protected is one that can never be replaced.
It was through researching, attending Congressional briefings, and advocating for legislation on the ground that I was able to find my connection with the rest of the world. Through my studies, I have spent years researching domestic and foreign policy, trying to figure out what impact this legislation will have on the rest of the world or on others in the United States. Finally, while I was with the YWCA USA, I was able to connect the dots and see how legislation not only impacted women and minorities in the United States, but also how it was relevant to me and those I cared about.
The eight weeks I spent with the YWCA were not just ones that I will add to a resume, but an experience that will shape me forever. I want to thank the staff at the YWCA USA for giving me an amazing opportunity to be a fellow in their advocacy department for the summer. After my summer working with the YWCA, I leave Washington, D.C. at the end of the week with a new drive: to continue to be an advocate in the United States and the rest of the world, not simply just a part of it.
A native of Westport, South Dakota, Margaret “Maggie” Pence is a rising junior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she is double majoring in International Relations and Communication Studies.