Virginia Tech senior Claire Kelling of Morrow, Ohio, will be honored this week as a White House Champion of Change. She will be recognized Thursday, April 14, at the White House, along with other students who are leading the charge to stop sexual assault on college campuses.
The Champions of Change program was established to “honor everyday Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities.” As a recipient of this honor, Kelling will have the opportunity to talk about her work and the challenges and successes she encountered, as well as hear from senior White House officials on this issue. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at the event.
“It’s a really great opportunity to talk about what I’m passionate about with influential people,” Kelling said. “We get the chance to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and talk about how we can make real change on college campuses. He’s passionate about stopping sexual assault and I think it will be a good opportunity to talk about what we can do on college campuses to encourage this conversation and ultimately to stop gender-based violence.”
Thursday’s White House event, scheduled from 2 to 4:30 p.m., will be live streamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
At Virginia Tech, Kelling is pursuing a dual degree in statistics and economics, paired with two minors: women's and gender studies, and women’s leadership. She’s a member of University Honors and was named the College of Science's 2016 Outstanding Senior.
“Claire is well deserving of this honor,” said Ronald Fricker, professor and head of the Department of Statistics in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. Kelling served as a teaching assistant for Fricker.
“She really is a Champion of Change. Throughout her time here at Virginia Tech, she has made the campus and Blacksburg a better place to live,” Fricker said. “Not only does she embody ‘Ut Prosim,’ but she is a true Hokie spirit ambassador. I have no doubt that wherever she goes, Claire will continue to make the world a better place.”
Throughout college, Kelling has been heavily involved in a variety of extracurricular activities on and off campus -- many of those linking back to her passion of raising awareness for gender-based violence.
Kelling has been a research assistant specializing in statistics and data analysis since her freshman year. She participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates in industrial mathematics and statistics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in summer 2014 and an internship at Procter & Gamble in summer 2015. She also researches gender-based violence on college campuses and presented on the topic at about a dozen conferences, including the International Women’s Issues Conference.
“I'm involved in a lot of different activities but I see them as all tied together,” she said. “I’m really interested in lessening this violence in the world, as well as specifically in Blacksburg.”
As a freshman, Kelling joined Womanspace+, an organization that is dedicated to intersectional feminist activism and discussion and is devoted to issues related to gender and equality, gender-based violence, body image, and reproductive justice. She is serving as president for a second consecutive year.
Womanspace+ introduced Kelling to some of her most formative experiences, including working all four years as an event coordinator for Take Back the Night, an international event seeking to end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse and all other forms of gender-based violence.
“Take Back the Night really seemed like a natural extension to my interests,” Kelling said. “The reason I got involved in coordinating this event specifically is because there’s real potential for change.”
Kelling also helps to organize some aspects of The Clothesline Project, which “addresses the issue of gender-based violence by providing a vehicle for survivors and their families and friends to express their emotions,” and she was a volunteer for AWARE, a program through the Women’s Center that sends college students to a local middle school to talk about body positivity, bullying, and similar issues.
Kelling said sexual assault issues affect many people on college campuses.
“There are statistics about how many people experience sexual assault on campus, but when you interact with survivors and the families and friends of victims, they’re not just the statistics,” she said. “The violence is heartbreaking.”
Written by Leslie McCrea, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.