Real-life lessons in the liberal arts empower alumna’s passion

Dawn Aldrich ’10 poses with “The Vagina Monologue” playwright Eve Ensler at the D.C. kick-off party Aldrich organized for the annual Feb. 14 One Billion Rising for Justice global event.
February 25, 2014

When Dawn Aldrich ’10 was designing her Women’s Studies major here at McDaniel, little did she know that she was laying the foundation for her activism, her career and even her perspective on life.

“I learned that every social justice movement has to be just as interdisciplinary as my liberal arts degree,” says Aldrich, who is the director of programs and policy for the National Council of Women’s Organizations in D.C. and continues to be involved as a director of “The Vagina Monologues” and outspoken activist against gender-based violence.

“McDaniel taught me that there’s never any one way to look at something,” says the Honors graduate and member of Phi Beta Kappa and Trumpeters. “I learned that it’s important to have passion and knowledge and to always seek and accept new information. That’s served me so well in my career and life – along with what I learned in ‘Writing for Non-profits’ since there’s always a need for strong writers at non-profits.”

Not a year has gone by since her freshman year in 2006 without Aldrich participating in one way or another in a production of Eve Ensler’s internationally acclaimed “The Vagina Monologues.” This year she is directing a group of professional D.C. women – the Capital Collective for V Day – in a production of the play but still managed to return to her alma mater as an audience member.

Surprise doesn’t begin to describe her emotions when she was called to the stage as this year’s Vagina Warrior in honor and recognition of her dedication to the cause of violence against women.

Then, less than a week later, as the organizer of a One Billion Rising for Justice kick-off party in D.C., Aldrich reached a personal summit – she met and chatted with her hero, Eve Ensler. Also at the event by invitation from Aldrich were McDaniel junior Rachel Israel, professors Becky Carpenter and Sara Raley, and from Campus Safety Kristen McGeeney '10 and Josh Bronson '01. One Billion Rising refers to the campaign Ensler launched, calling for women and men everywhere to rise and dance to demand an end to violence against women and girls. On Feb. 14, one billion people in 200 countries answered the call to rise and dance for justice.

“It was an incredible experience to introduce this woman whose words inspire me,” says Aldrich, who also majored in Art History. “And then to listen to her describe risings for justice not only around the globe, but here in the United States. She reminded us that we need to remember gender-based violence happens here at home too.”

Aldrich’s involvement with “Vagina Monologues” is truly anchored in the crusade for social justice for all, but she also treasures the camaraderie and the rock-solid bonds among members of the community. In fact, she stressed the community aspect as director during her senior year at McDaniel.

“I told everyone that I hoped we could raise as much money as possible for the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, but my real goal was to create a strong network of women they could rely on and who would support them through anything,” she says, explaining that when two back-to-back blizzards – known on the Hill as Snow-mageddon – postponed the play in 2010, she knew her goal had been realized.

“I was sobbing I was so upset about the snow and all of the girls reached out to me, telling me that they were in it for the long haul and would be there in the spring when the curtain opened. We were all so close. That meant everything to me.”