Starting an Autism Speaks U Chapter: The Essentials
This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.
Starting a new student organization in college can take a lot of time and dedication. Each school has a unique set of requirements and there sometimes isn’t a structure of how to go about starting a chapter, which can cause complications to arise.
However, this is what separates Autism Speaks U from many other college organizations. With help from Autism Speaks U (both their website and staff), we are given the tools to form and create an Autism Speaks U Chapter to spread autism awareness along with fundraising for Autism Speaks.
As a note, before you even consider starting a chapter on campus be sure to review the Autism Speaks U Chapter Guidebook. This gives a detailed description on how to start and maintain an Autism Speaks U chapter. Students will also need to download the 8 Steps to Starting an Autism Speaks U chapter (visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U and click on “Official Chapters” and select the teal “Start a Chapter” button). It is required that all 8 steps be completed before applying to become an Autism Speaks U chapter.
What I have below is the process I have been going through, and what I will be expecting at my university in the upcoming months. Remember that every school’s requirements are different, so check with your student affairs office before you begin this process.
In a previous post I discussed my student disability awareness group at Seton Hall University (SHU) and how we merged with Autism Speaks U. With October behind us, the paperwork to make Autism Speaks U a certified organization in the spring is now in the works. The process at SHU involves submitting an application to first gain “provisional status” and then after a 6 month preliminary period, we are acknowledged as a certified student organization. The application for provisional is pretty simple at my university and involves the following:
Name of Organization: Autism Speaks U Seton Hall University
Contact Person: Kerry Magro
Contact Email/Contact Phone: Kerry’s Contact Information
500 Word statement of your proposed organization: Autism Speaks U has a great mission statement that you can expand and customize to fit your chapter’s mission.
Three or more potential members: Create a sign-up sheet and look to your fellow students for help in promoting your chapter. You can walk around campus, have a table in the quad or ask different department heads to send an email on your behalf to their listserv of students.
A list of proposed activities your organization plans to do: Review the events on the Autism Speaks U website to get started and log into the site to access the event templates that provide step-by-step instructions.
A list of programs your organization plans to sponsor: Log into the Autism Speaks U site to review the event templates. They are extremely helpful, along with the Autism Speaks U staff who can help you brainstorm ideas.
A letter of approval by an advisor: Obtaining a faculty advisor can be challenging, but this person can serve as an official school contact for your chapter. He/she can help to promote your events, and/or allow you to make a brief announcement at the beginning or end of his/her classes. All of this will help you to promote your chapter and get more students involved!
After the application is submitted, SHU students are required to sit in front of a student organization council that listens to a presentation about the proposed organization. If everything goes well, you will then gain provisional status.
The next semester students go through the “provisional status” period. During this time, you will apply what you put in your chapter presentation or constitution into real events and programming on campus. The most important things to focus on during this time, especially starting off are:
- Make sure you understand your school’s policies and procedures for student organizations.
- Work on structure! Form a constitution where your group can have a backdrop of what they should abide by for each semester. Decide on convenient meeting times for both the chapter board and general meetings; consider starting off small when it comes to commitment (i.e. one board meeting and one chapter meeting a month).
- Utilize social media. Post all of your events on the Autism Speaks U website and promote your efforts on the Autism Speaks U Facebook page. You can event create an Autism Speaks U Facebook and Twitter Pages for your chapter and add all of your friends.
- Network, Network, Network! Make sure that students and faculty know about your chapter and get them both involved (especially the education and psychology department and the disability support office).
Autism Speaks U has chapters all across the country. They range from the University of Michigan, George Washington University, Saint Mary’s College, University of San Francisco, Miami University in Ohio, Indiana State University, Northwestern University and more! Many college students today have no idea what autism is or how prevalent it is. This is why creating an Autism Speaks U chapter is so critical in helping to make a difference in spreading the word about autism. If you are a college student reading this or know someone who may have interest in starting a chapter please forward this information along. You can also contact Sarah Caminker, the Autism Speaks U Community Manager, at email@example.com for more information.
(This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks everyone!)