Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
HCxCGIU Hero Template?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
HCxCGIU Hero Template?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
Life > Experiences

CGI U Ignited A Fire Inside Of Me I Didn’t Know I Had

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Vanderbilt chapter.

Warning: This post contains mentions of sexual assault.

Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) is an annual conference which brings together aspiring and current world leaders to discuss community, leadership, and action. In all honesty, I didn’t know that going into this weekend. My knowledge of CGI U was limited to the fact that the Clintons would be in town, on the Vanderbilt campus. And since I’m no better than every other clout chasing Gen Z leech (who happens to attend Vanderbilt University), that was enough for me to sign up.

For the first year back since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CGI U was hosted in Nashville. From Friday night until Sunday afternoon, attendees of the event participated in workshops, panels, and networking sessions that provided them with the tools to fearlessly tackle society’s most formidable challenges.

And so I, the farthest thing from an activist, set Waka Flocka Flame’s “No Hands” as my 8 a.m. alarm — setting the mood of a multi-million dollar activism conference to a 2010 college bar fan favorite.

When I arrived at Langford Auditorium, students from prestigious universities all over the world filled the seats around me, dressed for this political Met Gala. I, on the other hand, wore teal rhinestone sunglasses and a University of Arkansas sweatshirt. My only pair of business casual pants, which I had bought years ago, were pinned at my waist. 

IMG 0629?width=1024&height=1024&fit=cover&auto=webp

I came to learn that the other students in attendance had to apply for their passes. From my understanding, I had qualified for a press pass simply for being a member of Vanderbilt’s Her Campus team. Never before had I written anything along the lines of “fearlessly tackling society’s most formidable challenges.” Using my voice up until this point had exclusively looked like talking about my ex-boyfriends on Her Campus in a series called Love and Loss

As we waited for the event to begin, this fish-out-of-water feeling became more and more apparent. Nerdy (in the most beautiful sense of the word) eagerness wafted across the room, and I could see how this event was a golden ticket for attendees. This was an opportunity to transform visions into plans, to make change that would be felt by generations to come, to have your name written in history, and I worried that every other person in the room could see what I felt; I had weaseled my way into a highly coveted ticket to hear from world leaders, politicians, and activists — a ticket to meet former President Bill, Secretary of State Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton, and I was totally unqualified. 

And so I planned to lean into that, to accept that who I was as a writer and a person wasn’t a fighter. I planned to write a piece about CGI U from the perspective of a romance and comedy author. 

Watching a panel on women’s issues, my mind raced with ideas. I tuned out the speakers and began typing, that was until Hillary Clinton asked a young woman in a tan pantsuit and high heeled black boots what sustained her organization, Rise. “Rage,” she growled into the microphone in a kind of curated calm. She had me. I closed my computer and raised my eyes to the beautiful, brazen woman on the stage. Her name is Amanda Nguyen. 

I learned that Amanda Nguyen, age 32, started Rise in 2014 to fight for the rights of sexual assault and rape survivors. Since then, her organization has evolved into something even bigger, empowering everyone to rise up and fight for what they believe in. As an organization they have successfully passed more than 65 laws, changing the lives of millions of people. 

Then, Amanda Nguyen shared that she was raped.

And despite having spent 6 horrific hours in the hospital getting her rape kit, she was told it would be routinely destroyed before actually getting tested. She was told that if she were to fight for justice, there was a 1% success rate. 1 single percent. 

Chills erupted across my body and tears filled my eyes as she described the ride to the courthouse where she planned to fight for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act. Having learned her intentions, the stoic Uber driver who had remained silent the entire ride, thanked her for fighting for his daughter, who had also been raped.

And in that moment, something clicked into place for me.

This past summer I was sexually assaulted by a coworker. After explaining to my boss the hands and lips that were pressed to my body without my consent, my pleas and physical efforts to make it stop, I was told it did not count as sexual assault because my assaulter did not penetrate me — it was simply “an awkward miscommunication.” I was told that if I reported what had happened, I would be responsible for the destruction of the happy place of hundreds of people who spend their time at my place of work. I quit my job that day, but I did not seek justice. I went quietly.

What I realize now after hearing her speak is that Amanda Nguyen hadn’t just fought for herself, or the Uber driver’s daughter, that day at the courthouse. She had also fought for me. She fought for all of us.

My sexual assault story has lived exclusively in my diary for the past eight months. It is not one I ever intended to share, especially not on the internet. But Amanda Nguyen ignited a fire inside of me. She inspired a commitment to justice I never thought I was capable of. And so despite being a romance and comedy writer, despite never believing that activism would be my pathway, I knew clear as day I would never go quietly again.

CGI U and Amanda Nguyen opened my eyes to a world of change that looks so different from what I imagine when I hear “activism.” Previously, I thought of reposted Instagram stories and holding signs at protests, writing letters and attending rallies. Now I see that speaking up and screaming from the rooftops for what you believe in, or in this case publishing an article about my greatest moment of vulnerability, is as much a mode for bettering the world as anything else.

I don’t know if or when things will click into place for you. When or where you will find the topics of your own passion and choose to pursue them. But I do believe we all have some version of an activist hibernating within us, waiting for the right story to lure it out. CGI U is a great place to begin looking, but wherever your exploration for change takes you, promise me you’ll live life bravely and for your own sake, you’ll challenge yourself and you’ll challenge others, and most of all you will never go quietly.

“Joy is the most radical form of rebellion.” ~Amanda Nguyen

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.

See more of Her Campus’ coverage from the 2023 CGI University meeting here.

Maggie Dunn

Vanderbilt '24

Hi! I'm Maggie! I'm a senior at Vanderbilt studying Cognitive Studies and Human and Organizational Development. I currently live in Little Rock, Arkansas, but I've lived in 6 others states (NH, MA, NY, CT, MI, and TN). I started keeping a digital diary my sophomore year of high school that evolved to be over 200 pages. That was the beginning of my love for writing. Now I like to tell stories and critique my experiences and the world around me. I'm so grateful to be a part of Her Campus and get the chance to share my writing with all of you! :)