In her first year at the University of Denver, Boettcher Scholar Abbie McAdams set out to become a freshman senator in the Undergraduate Student Government (USG).
A previous stint in her high school’s student government played a role in her decision to run, but ultimately, McAdams says, “It was COVID. It was hard to get involved with clubs, and most clubs weren’t having events, let alone meetings. The only thing that really popped up was to run for student government.” So, she ran. And won.
A year later, McAdams, a public policy and international studies major, won the election for one of two sophomore senator seats. By the end of her sophomore year, she was appointed president pro tempore. As a junior, McAdams was elected USG president.
In her new role, McAdams set out to tackle the biggest problem she faced as a student senator. “There is a huge issue with burnout in all facets of life. In student government in particular, it’s frustrating to watch students with real passion and real ideas come in and not have the leadership in the system and the support to help them make those ideas come to fruition,” she says. “It’s really hard to create a productive and lasting system of change.”
Building a more effective student government, McAdams says, required a multifaceted approach. First, she helped to secure funding for stipends to support students in USG. Then, McAdams pushed to expand the USG from 30 to 75 members. Another crucial factor, she says, has involved providing professional development resources to USG members.
But McAdams didn’t wait for her time as USG president to start making an impact on campus. During winter break of her freshman year, a conversation with a friend of a friend inspired her to cofound Red Equity, a nonprofit centered around destigmatizing menstruation and combatting unequal access to menstrual products.
Initially, Red Equity successfully pushed the University to provide menstrual products across campus. Within six months, Red Equity had distributed more than 100,000 period products free of charge. By the end of its first year, the organization was working with college students throughout Colorado and launched new branches in Oklahoma, Nevada, California and Washington, D.C.
Red Equity has also seen legislative success, having worked on a law mandating that middle and high schools in Nevada must provide menstrual products in school bathrooms, and Colorado HB22-1055, which exempts menstrual and other hygiene products from sales tax.
McAdams’ commitment to building a more equitable future doesn’t end there. In January, she applied to the Clinton Global Initiative University, a program that provides mentorship, funding and training to assist college students in turning their passions into reality. McAdams plans to build a national story bank, called Dignity Dialogues, with a goal of collecting and storing testimony for use in shaping legislation in the future.
“I’ve seen so many bills not pass due to a lack of testimony and not hearing about how this is going to impact the communities or not hearing about those who are already impacted by it,” she says. “Testimony helps so much in making bills really reflect the needs of who it is going to affect.”