Carmen Rios: Feminist. Activist. Student(ist).

You’ve definitely heard her name around campus or at least seen her and her hard-to-miss hairdo crossing the quad on a mission. Frankly, if you haven’t, you don’t even go here. Carmen Rios, current director of Women’s Initiative (WI) is a staple on American University’s campus. She’s got wild hair and a feisty attitude to match. 

When I met Carmen outside of the Dav on a gloomy Monday, she had a smile on her face and the love of her life in her arms, a sweet black Chihuahua mix named Eli. She was surrounded by friends and chatting up a storm, while we tried to snag a table. Carmen’s a social butterfly by nature. 

What may be a normal day for Carmen can be considered one of an average college student’s busiest days. She manages to balance a full course schedule, representing WI, and a part time job at a childcare center. After watching some wake-up TV and snuggling with Eli, Carmen scurries off to campus where spends most of her day in meetings or classes, but mostly meetings. She relies on a healthy caffeine intake and the little time she gets to relax with her friends during the day to get her through. Carmen’s evenings are usually occupied with homework or events with WI, but when she gets a free night, you can find her at happy hour. 

Carmen has been interested in women’s issues ever since she can remember. But unfortunately, growing up in suburban New Jersey did not give her opportunities in high school to pursue that interest. Her friends weren’t as passionate about it because in most high schools, feminism and women’s issues aren’t normally discussed or part of the curriculum at all. When Carmen entered the AU community, she immediately felt welcomed and supported in her efforts, no matter what they may be.

“AU is very open to progressive thought… There is always an intelligent discussion going on," Carmen said. "Even if who I am talking to doesn’t agree with me, they still respect my opinions.”

Living in DC has also given her a great outlet to pursue her dreams. Carmen was a big part of Slut Walk DC back in the summer and even spoke at the event! Because she came to DC, she was able to nail awesome internships like Holla Back DC!, a grassroots organization aimed at ending sexual harassment and assault in DC.  As well as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which conducts research geared toward the needs of women to promote public dialog, and the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), which promotes women’s equality and empowerment. “I wouldn’t have gotten these opportunities anywhere else,” she said. AU and DC have clearly given Carmen the tools and resources she needs to make a difference in women’s issues.

Keep an eye out for some study breaks and big events this spring from Women’s Initiative! They’ll be hosting The Vagina Monologues, celebrating Women’s History Month in March, and, of course, Take Back the Night will take place in April again. Directing one of the most present groups on campus might sound like a lot of work and it is, but when it’s something you love, the stress is welcomed with open arms. When Carmen’s not in a meeting, class, or in line at the Dav, you can find her in her WI office in MGC 262, where she is always open to talking to everyone about everything and anything.  Women’s Initiative is a group that will welcome anyone interested in joining regardless of gender and opinions (or anything, really), and Carmen lives by those same standards.

Carmen is arguably one of the busiest students on this campus, and she will be missed when she graduates this spring. She is easily one of those students everyone knows will one day become famous for making a difference (she was already featured on The Early Show in April 2010!). Her ambition may seem intimidating to some, but she’s just a regular girl who loves puppies, pink, and a good discussion. So, next time you see her and Eli around, give her a five high five and Eli a good belly scratch, so you can say you knew her when.