Nationally, women are underrepresented in government organizations at the national, state and local levels. ASUN and the Center for Student Engagement teamed up with Running Start — a national organization that brings women into politics — to bring Elect Her to the University of Nevada, Reno on Saturday, Nov. 18.
Elect Her is a program created by Running Start that prepares women to run for elected office and leadership positions on college campuses.
According to a study by the Brookings Institute, women who run for school office are more likely to run for elected positions after they graduate. More than half of the women in Congress were part of their college’s student government.
“The key to strengthening and increasing women’s representation in American government is to get younger women engaged in politics and elected to office earlier in life,” says the Running Start website. “We must encourage young women to run for office, so that they can establish the tenure necessary to rise to political leadership positions.”
Even though the program is directed towards women, men are also welcome to join. Just under 70 students, male and female, participated in Elect Her at UNR. The program included networking opportunities, information on ASUN and preparation for campaigning.
The day started with an opening remark from Vice President of Student Services Dr. Shannon Ellis.
“This is about making this university, our community and society better,” said Ellis. “Every time a woman tells her story, it helps every other woman tell her own story and discover that she has power and voice and skills and attributes.”
The main organizers of Elect Her — Amy Koeckes from the Center of Student Engagement, Hannah Jackson, Speaker of the ASUN Senate, Chief of Staff Carissa Bradley and Sara Blanco from Running Start — shared why they wanted to bring Elect Her to UNR.
Since ASUN was founded in 1898, only six women have been elected president — the last one being Sarah Ragsdale in 2007. In the 2017 election, only seven women — six of which won — were part of the 32 candidates. ASUN has seen a decrease in women participating in their elections.
“Over the past five years, I have been looking at data from student elections and there was a void of women running and winning office,” said Koeckes. “I am really passionate about trying to figure out how we can get more equality to the ballot.”
The first workshop helped participants determine what their main issue would be in their campaign if they were to run for any type of office. Issues presented ranged from human rights to sex trafficking and rape culture to the environment.
Blanco said that this workshop was useful because every campaign should have an issue that they are trying to solve should that person be elected.
Next, former and current ASUN women spoke about what it was like to work and run in a male-dominated government.
Former ASUN Vice President Leissan Sadykova spoke about the sexism she faced when she ran for ASUN President in 2012 — a race she did not win.
“This is something you have to face every day and it’s something you have to know is going to be a challenge, and you can’t let that be part of your conversation in terms of feeding into it,” Sadykova said.
Sadykova also gave advice to women who were considering running for office. She told them to never compare themselves to their male counterparts while running because they face different challenges and remarks than women do. While running, she focused on how she presented herself rather than how others perceived her, and that helped her get through to the end of the election.
She also spoke about the importance of mental health while running for office and when elected. She said that everyone needed to take care and make time for themselves in order to be the best for their constituents.
Jackson spoke about what inspired her to run for ASUN, and how to participate in the elections and apply for an appointed position within the student government.
“I saw that the ASUN Senate passed a resolution in favor of creating gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and that just kind of shocked me,” Jackson said. “I thought ‘Wow this student government actually has a lot of say and a lot of influence into what happens on our campus and can really make our university and our community a better place.'”
ASUN election results will be announced on Thursday, March 15. Anyone looking to run needs to file their campaign on the ASUN website starting Monday, Jan. 29 and must have filed by Friday, Feb. 2. Campaigning begins on Wednesday, Feb. 7.
Anyone interested in an appointed position should apply on the UNR job search website.
The next workshops were dedicated to preparing for a campaign. Participants made a list and contacted people they wanted to work with on their campaign. Then, they wrote elevator speeches — a short speech about why they should be elected — and shared the speeches with their groups and the entire room.
At the end of the program, local, elected female officials came to talk to participants about their election or leadership experiences and the importance of women running for office.
The panel included women such as Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, Nevada State Assemblywomen Jill Tolles and Teresa Benitez-Thompson, Nevada State Senator Julia Ratti, Reno/Sparks NAACP President Patricia Gilmore and Dr. Angela Taylor, President of the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees. Each member of the panel spoke about their experience and answered questions from Elect Her participants.
Dr. Taylor talked about having good character and representing those that elected her, no matter how tired she is.
“Who you are will speak and follow you,” Taylor said. “Leadership is not about you. The minute you decide to be a leader, you go from ‘me’ to ‘we.'”
Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson spoke about a common perception of women being considered bossy or aggressive in the workplace.
“People feel free to tell me how they perceive me,” said Benitez-Thompson. “I know where I come from. You just have to know yourself. I have to make a decision and stand by that decision. Just because people don’t like that decision doesn’t mean I’m unkind or a bad person or not smart or the b-word, it just means that’s my decision.”
Mayor Schieve also mentioned the tendency for women to be seen as aggressive.
“I still sit on a lot of boards where I’m the only female,” Schieve said. “About being assertive, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s important for you to sit there and show you’re being assertive. Body language is really important.”
Schieve also spoke about wanting to inspire women through her position.
“I wanted to do it to show women that anything is possible. There’s nothing special about me, it’s all about desire. It’s not about how much money you make or what you look like, it’s all about desire. If I can do it, you guys can do it, and that’s a fact!”
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.