Professor Therese Lueck

Keynote Speaker

UA Chapter AWC 2005 Induction

April 14, 2005

AWC: A LEGACY OF LEADERSHIP

The Association for Women in Communications is the most recent name of the national professional organization that was known from the 1970s until the mid-1990s as Women in Communications, Inc.

This organization, which today spans the communication disciplines, was founded by a group of journalism students at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1909 as Theta Sigma Phi. It soon became a network for women in the male-dominated field of journalism.

Here in the School of Communication at the University of Akron, the Women in Communications chapter was started in the Fall of 1983.

A number of your professors, who are also leaders in the community, have served as advisors of this group. They include Dr. Endres, who is a University Distinguished Professor. The title, “Distinguished Professor” is the highest rank the university can bestow on any faculty member, so the title denotes membership in an exclusive group. Dr. Endres was only the second woman in the history of the university to achieve this honor. And your own advisor, Dr. Spiker, serves not only as an Associate Professor in Communication but as a university administrator – an Associate Dean in the College of Fine & Applied Arts.

But just like its national roots, the University of Akron chapter has always been a student-driven group. Let me give you a couple of examples from my time as advisor. Those of you who have taken the “Women, Minorities & News” course are already familiar with the Women, Men and Media project that the Women in Communications students undertook in the 1990s. They replicated the studies that had counted women on the front pages of newspapers across the nation, doing the same thing with the newspapers in Northeast Ohio. At that time, these annual studies were something new, and one editor at the New York Times had dismissed them as so much “bean counting.” But as the Women in Communications students counted the times women and men appeared on the front pages – in photos, bylines and stories – they made a lot more marks in the men’s column. For them, this was much more than “bean counting.” Their eyes were opened. They saw that, although the doors to the newsroom had been opened to women, they would still have to prove themselves to get their stories onto the front page.

At that time, I was a member of the national Progress of Women in Communications committee, and we presented the findings of that study at a POWIC dinner in Cleveland.

Dinners and functions such as this gave the students exposure to the professional community and chances to network with women and men who were eager to consider them for internships and employment.

Another project that the students initiated while I was advisor was a fund drive for the Ruth B. Lewis Memorial Scholarship. Coming from the broadcast professions of television and radio, Dr. Lewis was a long-time media professor and the senior woman in the department. She had recently died, and her students wanted to honor her in a meaningful way. A memorial scholarship had been established in her name to specifically address the needs of women and minorities, two groups to which Dr. Lewis had devoted her life, both through academics and activism. The students decided to invite alumni to honor Dr. Lewis by contributing to her scholarship. Their well designed petition was met with eagerness. They were successful not only in raising money for the scholarship but in establishing ties with the alumni.

One of the benefits of working in a women-centered group is that such a group promotes leadership qualities in women. Even today, in mixed-gender groups, women tend to look to men to be the leaders and the spokespeople, perhaps never giving themselves the opportunity to develop their own such qualities. Therefore, when we look at most women in leadership positions, we find that they have developed their leadership skills in all-women or predominantly female groups. 

With the name change to Women in Communications in the 1970s, the national organization also allowed men to become active members. The University of Akron chapter has, throughout its history, often involved a male student or two. These have been men who are not threatened by strong women, men who are not afraid to work with a woman as a leader.

As a member of the Association for Women in Communications, you’ll gain a better appreciation of the women around you. You’ll recognize how many uniquely talented women you have in your life, and how very important your relationships with them are. By working with these women, you’ll also recognize your own strengths and develop your own skills. Too often we stereotype women or overlook their accomplishments. As a member of this association, you’ll become more aware of the talents of the women with whom you’re working, and as you interact with them, you’ll find that you’re developing your own confidence, potential and leadership skills along the way.

As students – you’re probably commuter students – you’re also family members and most likely under-paid employees. You are busily engaged in many life roles right now. I’m so happy that you’ve made a place in your life to work with this group. I encourage you to enjoy this time you spend together.

Reference:

Association for Women in Communications, national association website: http://www.womcom.org/index2.html