Cultivating Change on Campus

closeup shot of hannah telken wearing a white dress with her arms crossed across her torso while holding a crimson colored graduation cap

The Women and Gender Resource Center (WGRC) at The University of Alabama (UA) serves victims of interpersonal violence through confidential counseling services and advocates for gender equity across all conceivable avenues. From counseling to support groups and more, the WGRC provides constant care and support to anyone on the Capstone’s campus who needs their service. However, not every student who interacts with the WGRC needs its services. Some, like UA alumna Hannah Telken from Belleville, Illinois, are simply passionate about the work that the Center does for their peers and want to help.

Hannah began her freshman year at the University as a psychology major during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, the number of extracurricular opportunities was vastly limited for her. Thankfully, the WGRC remained open and continued to serve the student body, all while following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to keep themselves and others safe.

After researching for ways she could volunteer her time despite the pandemic, Hannah discovered and joined the WGRC Ambassador program where she worked with her fellow ambassadors to give presentations to the campus community on a variety of topics related to interpersonal violence. She enjoyed serving as an ambassador and wanted to continue her efforts with the WGRC, so, she later became a Safe Sister within her sorority. Safe Sisters serve as liaisons between the other members of their sororities and the WGRC. They promote productive conversations with others about interpersonal violence and help guide and connect people to the necessary resources should they need them. Hannah spoke on what it was like to be a Safe Sister, and how they are an important resource for students.

“It’s super cool to bring that aspect of the WGRC back to your sorority house. Especially with all the events that fraternities and sororities have, it’s important to be talking about these kinds of topics and making sure that everyone feels safe. It’s important to have someone they can go to if they’re scared to go elsewhere for support. It’s that median of people who are their age and care about them because of that sisterly connection,” she said.

Another part of the WGRC that Hannah was largely involved in was the Student Leadership Council. The Student Leadership Council offers students the chance to hone and cultivate their leadership skills through training and volunteer opportunities, as well as the chance to implement multiple initiatives throughout the year to combat gender inequity and foster a community of partnership on campus. Hannah even served as president of the council and worked with her fellow student leaders to restructure the program to be more efficient and impactful at delivering advocacy and outreach initiatives to the student body. She revealed how her involvement with the Student Leadership Council aided her development as a future professional by facilitating the council’s plans.

“The WGRC’s work covers so many different things that it was hard to pinpoint exactly what we wanted to focus on. We had people from vastly different backgrounds, and they all had a pet project. Meshing all of that together was challenging, but I think that will for sure be helpful with my future legal career. I was able to mediate between everyone for ideas while making sure we were respectful of one another,” she said.

Hannah also spoke on the leadership she and others received from the full-time professional staff members in the WGRC. She noted how they cared for their students by doing everything in their power to equip them to thrive in their positions.

They really prepare you well. We go through hours of training for any student position that has direct contact with others. We have several hours of training each semester. . . You can tell they care about the students. They really want the best for each and every person they’re with

Hannah Telken

If you’re interested in partnering with the WGRC like Hannah, there are a multitude of ways to get involved with the Center. In addition to the initiatives Hannah chose, there are also mentoring programs for both men and women that work with local elementary schools, various other volunteering opportunities on campus and around the Tuscaloosa community and more. Hannah left one last piece of advice for anyone interested in getting involved with the WGRC.

The staff at the WGRC will never make you do something you’re not comfortable with. You can always reach out to them with your concerns, and they will work with you to make sure you feel ready to do any type of position they have.

Hannah Telken