Rachel McGowan, program director with I AM THAT GIRL, speaks during GRRRL PowHER Hour, an informal Women's College Convocation. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Rachel McGowan, program director with I AM THAT GIRL, speaks during GRRRL PowHER Hour, an informal Women's College Convocation. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Grrrl PowHER Hour Speaker Invites Students to ‘Step into Somebody Else’s Story’

Oct. 27, 2017
Alison Reeger Cook

Brenau University students heard powerful stories during the fourth annual Grrrl PowHER Hour Thursday, Oct. 26, in Pearce Auditorium. Keynote speaker Rachel McGowan, program director of I AM THAT GIRL in Santa Monica, California, challenged the Women’s College students to think about themselves in an open, new way and to be authentic to themselves.

“I think being authentic means to really sit with yourself and allow yourself to be all that you are,” said McGowan to the packed auditorium of Brenau students, faculty and staff. “All of the good things you’ve done and all of the mistakes as well. I believe all those things can co-exist; I can be both a masterpiece and a work in progress. We are not ‘human doings,’ we are human beings.”

The theme of this year’s PowHER Hour was empathy, which McGowan defined as “choosing to step into somebody else’s story in order to experience it.” She described empathy as a superpower, a tool to connect with others, and the key to overcoming division and isolation. McGowan also encouraged the students to be in tune to one’s own sensitivity and to pick up on injustice and the social “toxins” of the world.

McGowan attended Azusa Pacific University, where she earned a Bachelors of Arts in communication studies and Spanish in 2009, and a Master of Arts in organizational leadership in 2015. In 2016 she became the local chapter program manager, and shortly after program director, of I AM THAT GIRL, a nonprofit organization and brand that promotes healthy media for young women, to inspire self-confidence and be an avenue for positive social media for women.

McGowan’s passion is to give young women opportunities and experiences to share their stories.

Brenau students gather in the lobby of Pearce Auditorium after GRRRL PowHER Hour, an informal Women's College Convocation. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau students gather in the lobby of Pearce Auditorium after GRRRL PowHER Hour, an informal Women’s College Convocation. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

“Working with girls is a battlefield for us,” she explained. “It is a rallying cry to say I work with girls, because the world is not yet equal for us. It is still hard for us, even though we have made progress. Having empathy for my fellow human beings and having sensitivity is not ‘cute;’ those are my armor and my weapons, and my way to make a difference.”

Brenau Provost Jim Eck also shared his story of empathy, relating when his wife and his mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer. So he could better understand what they were going through, he observed how cancer patients responded to treatments, how family members tried to keep them comfortable, and the enduring pain that could last weeks to years. He expressed how thankful he was to finally remove the pink band he had worn on his wrist for three years, and his wife is now six years in remission. What impressed him most during that time was the empathy they received from doctors, nurses, friends and family.

“They were strong women, just like you, ready to walk in big shoes and arise with a renewed sense of power and self-determination,” he said. “Let’s commit to expressing empathy genuinely and unconditionally, and be agents for positive change.”

Students also took the stage, including performances from the Tau Sigma dancers and the Vocal Chamber Ensemble and speeches from the SGA President Simone Lewis, 2017 Baxter-Bryan Scholarship Winner Autumn Dobson, Chair of Honor Court Kaleigh McIntyre, and 2017 Miss Brenau Ideal Gloria Clark.

McGowan left the students with a final reminder that practicing empathy will allow them to better related to and understand each other and the world.

“I believe the most powerful words in the English language are ‘me too,’ because suddenly you’re not the only one,” said McGowan. “It is so much harder to hate something when you get close. If you get close, and you learn their story and listen to their struggles, it is so much harder to hate. You are allowing her to hold that space for you as well.”

General inquiries: info@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6299 or +1-800-252-5119 | Admissions: admissions@brenau.edu, +1-770-534-6100 or +1-800-252-5119 ext. 6100