Communications Project

Document Type:Dissertation
Name:Marilyn Thomas Leist
Title:Increasing Stages of Social Activism and Responsiveness to the National Agenda: How Women Experience Membership in the American Association of University Women
Degree:Doctor of Education
Department:Adult Education
Committee Chair: Dr. Harold W. Stubblefield
Committee Members:Dr. M. Boucouvalas
Dr. M. G. Cline
Dr. S. Stith
Dr. A. Wiswell
Keywords:women's voluntary associations, women's studies, American Association of University Women, grass-roots organizations
Date of defense:March 31, 1998
Availability:Release the entire work for Virginia Tech access only.
After one year release worldwide only with written permission of the student and the advisory committee chair.


The problem investigated in this study was how individuals participate in the local units of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and particularly how their participation relates to the program and policy initiatives of the national association. The purpose was to understand and describe how individuals experience branch membership, how they respond to the current program and policy initiatives of the association, and to examine some of the differences between members with regard to the salience of the initiatives. The research issues concerned why women join and retain their membership in local units, how they participate, and how they promote the program and policies of the national association. The grounded theory method was used to perform this qualitative study. Ten participants, in two branches, were interviewed. The interviews were transcribed, using The Ethnograph tool, and then open, axial, and selective coding was carried out to discern patterns and themes from the data. The findings, which emerged from the data, resulted in a model of four stages of increasing social activism and responsiveness to the national agenda. Attending to the mission of the association--to promote equity, lifelong education, and positive societal change--became increasingly important to some members as they moved through the stages. During the first stage, Participates, members simply attended meetings, took part in activities and fund-raisers, and some performed a branch role. During the second stage, Supports, they promoted education opportunities for specific women and girls, by setting up study groups, providing for local scholarships, or other educational activities. During the third stage, Facilitates, members actually promoted equity by disseminating information in the community concerning the associationís issues. During the fourth stage, Advocates, members worked in the community to make changes based on issues from the national agenda. The conclusions addressed member motivation, the importance of the social capital built through participation, and the internal consequences of membership. While most women joined and retained their membership in the local units for social contact, some joined because of the organizationís mission. Their motivation to join and retain their membership made a difference in their level and kind of branch involvement. The importance of the social capital built during participation in branch activities, often diminished, is of utmost importance to the usually, conservative members as some of them became more engaged in the activist, national agenda. The internal consequences of membership in the local units of the voluntary association were more important to members than the external consequences, which led to incongruence between the national office and the branches. This study adds to the body of knowledge regarding voluntary associations, particularly with respect to understanding how individuals experience membership at the local level, their goal orientation, and their motivation to participate over time.

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