Paying it Forward: Courtney Wingo on Community Service and Softer Touch
ATLANTA—Anyone who knows Courtney Wingo knows that she has a great love for community service.
Wingo, a third-year Biology major at Georgia State University, was a community leader during her childhood years and continues to serve her community as a student in college. She is involved in many organizations and activities, and she emphasizes the importance of “paying it forward.”
When she speaks about community service, a huge grin spreads across her face. She stares off in a far-away gaze as she reminisces and relives the memory of some of her community service projects.
“It is very important to give back [to the community],” she said. “You never know who you may impact or what it could lead to.”
Wingo talked about how she loves the positive reactions she receives from the people she serves. Whether they are children, adults or senior citizens, she always feels good about making a difference in their lives somehow.
Of all the organizations Wingo is a part of, the one she holds closest to her heart is Softer Touch. While wearing her shirt and carrying her bag, both decorated with the organization’s logo, she presents an air of confidence.
“I joined [Softer Touch] last year. I went to events. My friends and co-workers are members, and I saw them around campus and at events. I really liked how the organization functioned, so I decided to become a member. Now I’m the Co-Community Service Chair.”
Softer Touch is a service organization created by women at Georgia State. According to Wingo, this organization is geared toward inspiring women to use community service as a means to better themselves and help those in their community achieve a better quality of life.
Wingo believes that this organization is the best option for people who want to make friends while increasing their network.
“I know freshmen come in [to Georgia State] and they are lost, they don’t really know anybody… It’s good to have a group that you can share common interests with, and because all of our members are a part of other organizations on campus, joining Softer Touch would just provide a way for someone to meet even more people.”
In early November 2013, Softer Touch was notified by Georgia State University’s Office of the Dean of Students in regards to their charter. Softer Touch was accused of being discriminatory against men which violates the university’s policies on exclusivity within student organizations. Because their membership consists of women and did not provide an open space for men to join, Softer Touch was at risk of losing its charter.
Suddenly, Wingo’s cheery mood turned into contempt.
“I took it as a joke… It’s not like we ever said ‘men can’t join.’ If you read our constitution, no where does it say that only women can join Softer Touch. While our organization is not restricted to women, we do send [men] to our brother organization, Tighter Grip, because, based on the principles of that organization, it would be a better fit for them.”
When asked about why Tighter Grip would be a better fit for men, Wingo paused before speaking.
“Our organizations do the same things, but we have different goals. Tighter Grip was founded as an initiative to keep African-American men enrolled in college. Softer Touch has a similar message for minority women, but we focus more on self-image. Tighter Grip was founded before Softer Touch, and there were women who did believe in Tighter Grip and their purpose. However, it didn’t really speak to them. African-American women don’t really have a problem with staying in college. Most of our problems come from self-image and self-esteem, and that’s what we focus on.”
Wingo admitted that she is offended that the Dean of Students would look at her organization in a negative light instead of seeing it for what it is. The thought of having her organization removed from campus caused obvious concern.
“It’s funny how they make exceptions for fraternities and sororities to be gender biased because they are nationally known for their work and achievements, but other [non-greek organizations] who want to follow in their footsteps and create organizations in the hopes that they will become as big and as powerful as [a fraternity or sorority] as far as service…” She paused before speaking again. “It puzzles me a little bit.”
The office of the Dean of Students reviewed Softer Touch’s constitution and it was decided that Softer Touch could remain chartered at Georgia State, but the members would have to change the wording of the organization’s creed due to gender-specific wording. The creed currently reads:
“We are sisters dedicated to empowering ourselves through mentorship and community service, united for the purpose of uplifting women of color striving for excellence in education and making a difference. We are Softer Touch, unique individuals designed by God to be radiantly beautiful.”
Wingo says she is proud to be a member of Softer Touch. No matter what, her dedication and loyalty to this organization remains strong and she truly believes in the purpose of the organization.
“I love Softer Touch with all my heart.”
Wingo is one of 150 members of Softer Touch. She plans to remain active through her commencement from Georgia State University.