Boston University student, Meredith Varner, is making strides toward gender equality as president of the BU chapter of HeforShe, a campaign started by Emma Watson in 2014. Varner is a senior in the College of Communication studying Advertising and Journalism with a minor in Political Science.
The interview was shortened and edited for clarity.
Q: Why did you join HeforShe?
A: I actually went to Splash my freshman year. My roommate and I were just walking around, and I saw the HeforShe symbol. I had recognized it from Emma Watson's speech that she had made in 2016 because that speech was a really influential moment of my feminist timeline. I remember watching that and being like, “Oh, that makes like a lot of sense,” because I had started getting into feminist stuff mostly through Tumblr in high school. But that speech, I remember, being a moment in time. So, freshman year of college when I saw that, I went and signed up, then I went to the first meeting. It was the second year the club was around [on campus,] and the first year that they were able to do stuff through student activities because when you register as a club, it takes a year to be legitimized and be able to get money and rent rooms. So this was their first time as a real club so super, super new and the first meeting had easily 50 to 60 people show up in one of the CAS rooms; it was filled. At the end of the meeting, the president, Fran, was asking, “Okay, so while we're all here, who has ideas about stuff to do throughout the semester?” I raised my hand. I don't even remember what I said. I don't remember what idea I had, but I remember she liked it and encouraged me to apply to G-board which I did because I had never been in any sort of leadership position and that terrified me so I wanted to try and get out of my comfort zone, a little bit. And I thought the key to success at BU was extracurriculars. I thought I had to be part of them, which isn't necessarily true, but I just really wanted more besides classes. So it just kind of was a series of events that led me to apply for G-board and then get into G-board and then continue to just devote more and more time to the club.
Q: How do you feel about leadership positions now as president of the club?
A: That's really funny because I was so scared just to do G-board, which is the lowest leadership position you could have in a club. We were just there extra times than regular members and helped them come up with ideas and shadowed some E-board members. It wasn't anything crazy, but at the time it seemed so scary because I had never done anything like that, besides just being a member of a club in high school. So I was really stepping out of my comfort zone. At the end of the first semester, Fran had said to me, “Hey, a lot of the current E-board is going abroad or graduating. Can you come on as the E-board person for social media marketing?” And at the time, I had just added advertising to my major, and that would make sense for my résumé and it can't be that much more work, I was like, “Sure, I'll do that.” Then at the end of the year, Fran again was like, “All right, now literally everybody's leaving. Do you want to be Vice President?” And I said, “I guess.” But I was terrified. That was the scariest thing she could have asked me, honestly; Vice President was a really big jump. That was a really important moment for me because I had to be “Don't overthink it. Just do it. Just go for it, take the position. It's going to be fine. You'll figure it out along the way,” and it really wasn't that terrifying. The President was a wonderful person who did so much work and made it such an awesome experience and the E-board truly was a bunch of wonderful people.
Q: What are some of the most valuable things that you’ve learned from being a part of the club?
A: The most valuable thing I've learned is how to delegate. Since I don't really have one single task as president, I'm overseeing the entire function of the club. At first, I really struggled with giving people tasks and not taking it all on my own, and this year I'm much better at making sure I tell someone, “I need you to do this,” as opposed to me just doing it because I want it done quick or done right. I'm putting my faith in other people, and it’s something I struggle with, but being able to delegate tasks properly and work as a team— instead of working as an individual— is something I've learned. For example, Written on the Body was my baby because during freshman year when I was the marketing E-board member, Fran said we need more people to know about us because we're still a very new club. And I said, “Why don't we do some sort of artwork themed thing where we use people's bodies and we can post it. We can print out the pictures as poetic stance via art and bodies?” That has become our biggest project and event. While we were doing it, I think we had like a good 50 to 60 people sign up to participate. And this is only our second year of doing it. If we get to do it in the spring, I would anticipate larger even larger numbers because so many people love it. That really taught me to just go for it. If you have an idea and you think it might be good, say it.
Q: Have you been able to apply anything from HeforShe and other on campus organizations that you’re a part of to classwork or internships and vice versa?
A: I think as a COM major, a lot of COM majors will agree with me when I say that it's very group project based, especially in advertising. So being able to communicate correctly with a group is not a given, which I learned very quickly. Having an E-board that I have to be in constant contact with and delegating and having discussions bouncing ideas off of each other, that's really helped my communication skills and other group settings like in my advertising classes and create better work in turn. I'm lucky enough that I really haven't had a terrible group experience in all my years in COM, but I think that also has to do with the students in COM. A lot of them are just so great. I really never met a bad person in COM, professor or student. In terms of other clubs or extracurriculars, at The Daily Free Press, I've been writing an opinion column for the last four years, so that helps supplement my writing. In the last four years, I've just never stopped writing between advertising, journalism, and The Daily Free Press. HeforShe has definitely helped me be more educated on topics that I wouldn't necessarily have thought of. As an E-board, we come up with discussion topics, and our E-board is diverse and full of different genders and races and ethnicities and having that really helps to broaden my world view and hear more perspectives from other people and be a better listener as well as a better communicator.
Q: Is there any discussion topic that has stuck out to you?
A: Last Fall, we did a cultural conversation about gender stereotypes and gender roles where we collaborated with BU Filipino Student Association, The Filipino Club, and Alianza Latina. It was really nice to be able to bring together different cultural groups and have a conversation about their experiences with gender roles between a lot of them being first generation-Americans and having parents and grandparents from different countries who have different ways of life and different standards for how men and women should act. I really enjoyed that because it was the first time we really delved into some real-life personal stuff having to do with intersectionality between the races, ethnicities and then gender and how that is working. We also did a painting feminism thing where I bought little canvases and little paint brushes and people could come and express what feminism means to them through painting. It was a stress reliever type thing, and that was really nice. We really like the activities where people can participate. Live discussions are great, but the activities are always so much fun because it's more to your day than just more learning. More recently, we did a conversation on men's mental health, which is something I really wanted to do. It’s so important to me because people really mistake feminism for being just about women when, obviously, it's about all genders and I shouldn't have to explain that, it should be given. So, it's important that we focus on issues for all the genders and for men. Particularly mental health is a really big one that's not addressed enough because, first of all, they're not taught how to express their emotions correctly because of toxic masculinity and second of all, because of toxic masculinity, nobody's reaching out to them. Just starting with a discussion is how we're going to help solve it in the long run because if we're talking about it, then we're aware of it and we know how to fix the problem. So that's why we like to do so many discussion-based topics, because then people can bring their own experiences and thoughts to the group. As a club, we can figure out what's actually going on, what do people think about it, what do we need to do to fix this issue and be a support group so that people realize we're here for both genders and here to solve these issues.
Q: Lastly, do you have any advice to share for freshmen?
A: I would definitely say, just go for it. Don’t be scared to join a club or join multiple clubs because you think you can't handle it. If you can only make it to a meeting one week out of the entire semester, then you're better for it. You've gained something out of that meeting, so why not do it. I have a ton of extracurriculars, and maybe I have a little bit more on my plate than I should this semester, and they all add something important to my academic career at BU, and I wouldn't have wanted to do college without them. For me, I don't think college is just learning. Obviously, your classes are such an important aspect of it, but there's so much more you can gain out of the school besides just going to classes, and that's still the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. Clubs are still doing things, just a little different. If you go to the meetings now, you'll establish yourself as a member, and then when things go back to normal, you can continue doing that and engaging even more. I met a great group of people through HeforShe, and I've gained a lot of really valuable friendships out of it. There's a lot of awesome people here and if they're interested in a club like HeforShe, they're pretty awesome.