Students attended a day-long conference aimed to inspire young women to run for elected government positions, January 19th. The conference was organized by Running Start, a Washington, D.C. program providing campaign training for women. Melanie Wolfe ‘20 invited Running Start to campus after she met founder Susannah Wellford at a Vox conference in DC.
“When she told me about the ElectHer program they run on college campuses across the country, I thought it would be a timely and valuable event to bring to CMC,” said Wolfe. “After watching the election season take place that same spring, I was disappointed with the lack of competition for elected positions on ASCMC, and particularly with the lack of female candidates in the races.”
The conference included an Athenaeum talk by West Hollywood Council Member and former mayor Lindsey Horvath, a panel discussion with women student presidents from the other colleges in the consortium, and personalized workshops by Wellford.
The conference began with a keynote speaker at the Athenaeum, Lindsey Horvath. Horvath drew from her own experiences running the Vagina Monologues at the University of Notre Dame to successfully campaigning for West Hollywood City Council to urge women to run for office. “I want to give you my blessing to be powerful, strong, and badass women,” she said. “But you don’t need my blessing; you’re students at Claremont, you’re already empowered.”
In discussing the media sensations #MeToo and #TimesUp, Horvath said that “while we like celebrating victories, it’s important to be with them during the struggles too.” She shared “untold stories” such as that of Debbie Johnson, who faced intense racism and harassment from her co-council members while she was running, and Adama Iwu, an African-American woman who was told that she didn’t have “the right face” to lead the We Said Enough program. She also said that while some have questioned if the movements have gone too far, “unless we have work and policy and direct conversation, it is going in the right direction but there is no ‘going too far.’”
After the talk, Horvath joined Wellford and a few students to discuss why women would be deterred from running, and how to overcome those roadblocks. When the group talked about women not feeling qualified or confident, Horvath responded that she overcame that by surrounding herself with strong people who would support her.
Conference attendees were then introduced to a panel of women leaders, included Cristina Lee ’18, former VPSA, and the student government presidents Lupe MacIntosh HMC ‘18, Kelly Peng SC ‘18, and Hajar Hammado PZ ‘18. They spoke about their strategies for running a campaign, and what they hoped for their student governments. Hammado said that she felt her campaign was successful partly because of her visibility in her previous role and avoiding negative advertising. MacIntosh also relied on her previous experience in student government, especially in making parties at Harvey Mudd safer. Ultimately, all the panelists encouraged the students to run for positions and made the option tangible.
Wellford then ran a workshop on elevator speeches, asking each of the participants to work through what issue was important to them. Students then presented, received feedback from peers, and refined their speeches. The topics included diversifying the hiring process in tech companies, creating an agency to place LGBT folk in top employment positions, and making healthcare accessible to everyone. C.C. Schwab ‘19 presented ideas to make it easier for students to find people to go to events with. “I learned about the importance of talking about things from the First Person POV so that it is genuine and relatable,” she said.
Wolfe said the administration was very helpful in organizing the conference, “which really shows how much CMC believed in the mission of the conference.” Each of the attendees was given a handout with information about the upcoming ASCMC elections in hope that more women would be inspired to run.
“I have several theories as to why there are so few women in elected positions, ranging from the institutional culture that surrounded ASCMC to the incentive structures that surround all of the paid opportunities CMC offers to work at research institutes or other campus organizations,” Wolfe said. “However, I think every woman on campus would answer this question differently based on their CMC experience, and my biggest wish for this conference is that this is a question we all begin talking about amongst our groups and answering for ourselves.”