The University of Mississippi is home to about 24,000 students. Of those, 56 percent are women. There are hundreds of organizations on the Ole Miss campus, but Girl Up is one of the newest.
Launched in 2010, Girl Up partners with the United Nations to support comprehensive programs that give adolescent girls in developing countries an equal chance for education, health, social and economic opportunities, and a life free from violence, according to the GirlUp.org website.
Claire Biggerstaff founded the UM club at the end of Christmas break in 2017. “My friends were really supportive of my decision to step out and create a club,” she said. “They help by holding leadership positions and encouraging me.
“We built membership through various sororities on campus and the involvement fair earlier this semester. I once saw a girl in the Starbucks line wearing a ‘girl empowerment’ shirt and suggested she join Girl Up. Now she is a member.”
Biggerstaff said this is one way she can help improve the world. “I always wanted to solve all the world’s problems,” she said, “but that is probably physically not possible.
She believes education can help solve other world issues.
“Girl Up and education hold a special place in my heart because I can’t imagine being deprived of an opportunity to learn,” she said. “I realize the issue of gender inequality in America, but can’t begin to imagine that times 10.”
Biggerstaff said one of her greatest Girl Up accomplishments has been receiving positive response about the club.
“Anytime that someone learns the impact Girl Up can have is an achievement,” she said.
Another accomplishment was helping pass an act of Congress. Members signed letters to their state senators explaining the benefit and necessity to provide refugee children with an opportunity for education.
Member Paul Gebeline is one of few, if not the only, men in the club. He is enthusiastic about advocating for the club and participating in events.
“I intend to send a message to my male friends that they can help give back to the female community worldwide,” he said. “I intend to help them drop the social stigma that they are less masculine if they advocate for the rights of women.”
The club in not exclusive to women and welcomes everyone who wishes to make an impact in the world.
Gebeline said his favorite part about the club is the kindness. “At the fair, I only talked to the women representing Girl Up for a few minutes, but in those few minutes, I received so much kindness that it was almost overwhelming.
“I can tell that the organization is filled with passionate people who want to fearlessly advocate for women’s rights, and I love surrounding myself with people like that. It brings some positivity and sense of belonging into my stressful fall semester.”
Members of Girl Up are now helping women in Oxford by hosting a tampon and pad drive. “There are women in the community who are financially burdened by the cost of these medical necessities,” Biggerstaff said.
Drive boxes will be set up in participating sororities and residential dorms on campus.
The group will also host a movie night with the organization, Her Campus, an online magazine targeting college women. Tickets will be sold as a fundraiser for the club, and the movie “Girl Rising” will be shown.
“Use this organization for not only the benefit of the community, but for your own empowerment,” Biggerstaff said. ” Empowerment and support can help you reach personal goals. Use the organization for yourself, as well as others.”