An Empowered Woman Who Empowered Women: Dani Kluss

I joined Her Campus at Cal Lutheran my second semester of my sophomore year - thank you to my roommate and now one of my best friends for convincing me. Back then, we had a serious shortage of writers and that's why my roommate was trying to convince me to join. HCCLU has been a major part of my undergrad experience and it's been an absolute whirlwind of a time. HCCLU started because of one person and her determination as well as her penchant for surrounding herself with ambitious women - Dani Kluss. She's moving on up now that she's graduated from Cal Lutheran and I had the opportunity to learn a little bit more about her.

                                                                  Two icons: Dani Kluss and Gumby

Her Campus at Cal Lutheran: What were you part of while you were attending Cal Lutheran?

Dani Kluss: My first year at CLU I became the Founder/President of Her Campus at Cal Lutheran. I was also involved in the CLU Theatre department and Cal Lu Crafts Club.

HCCLU: What was your favorite part of Cal Lutheran?

DK: Honestly, the nice dorm rooms was #1. I really enjoyed the rooms I had when living on campus.

Second, I really appreciated how the school allowed me to form my experience as a student there into really anything that I wanted it to be. For example, creating Her Campus at Cal Lutheran of course completely changed and formed my college experience. The school was super supportive while we were starting up, and then as HCCLU began to grow they continued to support us as we tried new things like throwing our first International Women's Day Celebration, which has become an annual tradition. The fact that the school, student government, and clubs/orgs department were so willing to work with us as we started out really made it a good experience.

                         Dani (bottom middle) and the rest of the Executive Team before she graduated!

HCCLU: What have you been doing since you graduated?

DK: When I first graduated I started working as a Marketing Assistant with SAGE Publishing, where I had interned during my senior year at CLU. I really enjoyed my time there, however my long term goal was always to get into entertainment marketing. I recently had that opportunity and started my current job as a Franchise Strategy/Brand Development Assistant at NBCUniversal, with the team that works on the DreamWorks animations brands.

My first day at CLU I started my own blog, Dani Dearest, that I continue to write on in my free time and sometimes partner with brands/companies for sponsorships and other influencer-type activities.

Lastly, being a born and raised Thousand Oaks local, when our town was struck with the tragedies back in November, my boyfriend and I started a screen printing company where we designed and printed T.O. Strong t-shirts to raise money for those affected by the shooting and the fires in our community.

HCCLU: How has Cal Lutheran helped shape you as an individual?

DK: I think that the biggest thing that Cal Lutheran did for me, as weird as this is, was not having what I wanted. 

I'm definitely the kind of person who would have loved to join a sorority in college, who was looking for that sort of group/sisterhood aspect. I have also always loved writing, leading, management, event planning, and organization. Her Campus was the perfect combination of all of those aspects, and being able to start the Cal Lutheran chapter of HC from the ground up was a really defining moment for me. I learned so much about how to work with people, how to apply the marketing tactics I was learning about in my Communication classes to get the word out to recruit both readers and writers, how to lead a large team (at one point we were at over 120 members!) and how to plan successful events. I learned that leading wasn't about me, it was about others. How to not focus on myself/take myself too seriously. How to take a step back from drama and gossip that occurs in any group and to make sure to put my best face forward as the face of the organization and lead while inspiring.

Of course this wasn't perfect, like I said it's all about learning, but the best way that I learn is by doing and this was the best hands on experience that no classroom setting could offer me. And it has paid off tremendously in my career so far.

HCCLU: International Women's Day is coming up, I know this event is important to you, can you talk more about that?

DK: Of course! International Women's Day is an amazing day where women around the globe celebrate the accomplishments that women have made before us, and the strides that we continue to make as a gender. It's a day to celebrate equality amongst all people and to identify where we can continue to improve.

During my junior year at CLU we held Her Campus at Cal Lutheran's first ever International Women's Day Celebration, and it was a major hit. We included all different kinds of clubs, organizations, and offices from around campus and had everyone set up a sort of "fair" style event on The Spine. Each organization had their own booth with information, activities, games, and more all surrounding celebrating women around the world.

It was such a cool event, it was the first large event that I had such a heavy hand in creating, and it was so great to see it become such a success.

                                                                     The First International Women's Day

HCCLU: What does being a women mean to you?

DK: I have to say, over time my idea of what being a woman means has shifted a lot. Right now, being a woman means that I take the time to identify the paths that I easily walk on every day that those who came before me had to build. When I voted for the first time in the 2016 election, I had to take a moment and realize that not that long ago I would not have been able to do so due to my gender. I work for a large entertainment company, doing the corporate office "thing" right now - but if I was born in a different time period it would have been frowned upon, or frankly not possible, for me to work in an office or wear pants to work every day. Being a woman means recognizing how far we have come, and how far we still have to go in our continuous fight for gender equality.

HCCLU: What does empowering women look like in your opinion?

DK: Helping other women, of course. Listening to each other's ideas and lifting each other up.

That was a big thing that I focused on with Her Campus at Cal Lutheran. When we started we had 12 writers, my 2 VP's, and me. That was the team. Then girls would come up to me and say "hey I love Photography, can I take photos for our articles?" or "I have an idea for an event" or "I took a look at our social media profiles and I want to launch a Pinterest for us" or "I think we need our girls to have a sense of sisterhood and community, can we throw more team bonding activities?" and we grew.

It was like they say in improv - "yes, and..."

I said "yes, and let's make a whole team around Photography, do you want to lead it?"

I said "yes, and let's work on one huge event next year" (which became IWD)

I said "yes, and let's do a big team workshop on how to make Pinterest graphics for our articles so that we can get everyone involved"

I said "yes, and pull together anyone else who has ideas like that and let's make a spirit/sisterhood team focused on chapter morale"

Then next thing I knew we had 7 teams, all based off of the interests of our members.

Without that empowerment, without that belief in our girls and their abilities, we never would have been able to grow like we did.

But, empowering women looks differently in every setting. For example:

I also work in technical theatre in my free time, I've been involved in both professional and community theatre since I was 16 years old. Working backstage, not as an actor on stage, comes with it's own set of difficulties as a woman.

I regularly get told things like "are you sure you can lift that?" "no, no, sweetie let me do it" "wait, you're a technician? But you're too pretty to stay behind the curtain!" and "honey, don't be so bossy" from complete strangers. In that scenario, empowering women is standing up for each other. Seeing when your fellow women (or really, any human) are being treated poorly in any scenario and backing them up.

"Actually she has a masters degree in lighting design, she can handle this."

"Excuse me sir, she's the stage manager that's her job, you need to listen to her."

"I think she's doing a great job packing this truck on her own, you are excused for the day." 

Lastly, today it's important to empower women on social media. Studies have proven that sometimes just scrolling through your Instagram feed can harm your mental health. As many have said, social media shows our highlight reel, not our reality.

It's important to show your genuine self out there and show other women that they are not alone in their sad days, their stretch marks, their procrastination, and their struggles. It can be a hard line to walk on, between having an aesthetically pleasing profile as well as genuinely representing yourself, but it's an important one to try to do for the sake of the other women who look up to you.

HCCLU: What is your wish for women everywhere?

DK: To be happy and to discover themselves in that happiness.

What makes you happy? Working out and eating vegetables? Do it. Drinking wine and watching Netflix alone on a Saturday night? Do it. Becoming a work-a-holic (guilty!) and making that money while growing in your career? Do it.

Advocate for yourself and your fellow women, do what you believe in, be good to society as a whole, and find what makes you happy.

All photos courtesy of Dani Kluss