Refinery29 is partnering with Girls Who Code for the #MarchForSisterhood on International Day of the Girl. This is the first-ever all-digital global march. Come back each day this week to learn about why different young women are participating, and join us as we #MarchForSisterhood on any of your social media channels this Friday, October 11, 2019.
I’ve never had a typical college day. As an Executive Director and college student, my days involve talking to reporters, running to the student union for assignments, calling my coworkers, attending class, and then flying out for business trips. I direct the organization Student Voice, a nonprofit that empowers young people to take ownership of their education. We run five programs that train and equip high school students with the tools they need to make change in their communities. I’ve been involved with Student Voice since I was 16 — I won’t get my Bachelors’s Degree until next year, yet I’ve already had a six-year career.
This all began my junior year of high school after watching the Corridor of Shame, a documentary that highlights inequities in South Carolina Schools. I grew up in Title I schools, but moved to a wealthier neighboring district before my sophomore year began. I quickly noticed how vastly different my school experiences were, despite my new school being just miles away. I became obsessed with understanding the gross inequity that existed in my state. South Carolina isn’t a large state, but the way that education policy is written and schools are operated causes education experiences to vary wildly across zip codes. Some schools have Apple TVs in every classroom and provide students with opportunities to travel across the country each year. Other schools lack the most basic resources a school needs to stay open — teachers,textbooks,desks, and everything in between.
I started connecting with students from across South Carolina. Together we fought for recognition of student voices around the big funding questions playing out at the state legislature. In one campaign, students in Lexington District 4, a rural and underfunded district of the state, fought to secure $25 million in a bond referendum that would fund their school. But I wasn’t done yet; in a surprising plot twist in my very type-A existence, I decided to take a gap year.
During my year “off”, I traveled to 20 states, meeting over 3,000 students, and visiting 32 schools to talk with young people about their experiences in school. I went to conferences, I read and met with teachers and decision-makers to learn as much as I could. I witnessed how many schools were lacking the financial resources to provide students with the resources they deserve. Students continually cited their desire to have access to modern technology.
An issue I heard about often, and still hear about, is the lack of opportunities in science, technology, and math for young women. Young women are interested in STEM fields but are told, both directly and indirectly, that these fields are not meant for them, but instead for their male classmates. We often discuss how to close the gender pay gap and the gap in the amount of women in STEM fields, but fail to discuss how young girls’ experiences in schools set the foundation for what they perceive their potential futures in STEM to be.
I’m marching for sisterhood for all of the incredible girls I’ve met throughout my career thus far, and all those I will meet. Everyone deserves access to technology that will open the world to them. As long as inequity persists and the gender gap in tech remains, we’ll march.
Learn more at https://www.marchforsisterhood.com
Merrit Jones is a third-year student at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and executive director of Student Voice, a student-run nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the student movement by empowering high schoolers to take action on the issues that most affect their education.
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