The University of Louisville hosted Elect Her, a program to teach young women about political campaign skills, at the Chao Auditorium in Ekstrom Library on Nov. 2.
Both Running Start, an organization that aims to guide women into political leadership, and the American Association for University Women (AAUW), an organization that works to increase gender equality in educational institutions, led and sponsored the workshop.
The event featured female speakers who addressed a wide spectrum of strategies ranging from handling gender-specific issues that female politicians face to conducting the basics of campaigns like funding and networking.
Jessica Kelly, program manager for Elect Her at AAUW, guided and presented the event.
“The goal with Elect Her is to encourage and train college and high school women to run for their student governments and think about future political office. We want to give women the tools and the confidence to go out there . . . and see what it’s like to run a campaign,” Kelly said.
She said that gender roles are a common factor that have prevented women from running for political office.
“There is research that shows that interest in politics for boys and girls is the same until around high school age, and then there’s just this huge ambition gap between young men and young women,” Kelly said.
“A lot of the gap is the messages that young women get while growing up—what is for girls and what isn’t for girls,” Kelly said, “ and going out and trying to run for office when you might fail is a scary thing for young women when they’ve been getting all of these messages that say ‘Don’t mess up!’ and ‘Be perfect!’”
Attica Scott, state representative elect for the 41st district in the Kentucky House, attended the event to address the audience about issues that women face while they are in political leadership positions and the importance of having women in political office.
She provided commentary on the intersection of her female identity with her race and how both of those factors had affected and continue to affect her role as a politician.
“Elect Her is really building up young women’s political leadership,” said Scott. “We need more women who are engaged in both local and state politics because we don’t have enough, quite frankly, and we need more women of color because right now we’re only 5% of state legislatures across the country.”
Amanda Nitzken, the Executive Vice President of the University of Louisville’s Student Government Association, led a discussion on young women in student government and said that she personally experienced difficulties during her academic campaign due to being a woman. She said that, often, her peers would respond to her with comments about her physical appearance rather than her policy suggestions.
Several students who are part of the University of Louisville’s chapter of AAUW also attended Elect Her.
“I believe that it’s important for women to get into politics. The government rules a lot of our body laws, like birth control, so I think it’s important that, if these things are going to be governed, women are part of that.” Katherine Deaton, the treasurer of the university chapter of AAUW, said.
“As women, we’re more than just a body, more than just something that can give birth, and more than what we’re portrayed as in the media,” the University of Louisville’s AAUW secretary Raven Cockrell said. “I’m here today so that we as women can come together and learn those skills and have those resources to get into higher roles in society.”
“With the first woman running on a major ticket in our history for president, it is a bigger deal,” Kelly said about the Elect Her workshop. “I think we’ve seen an uptick in schools wanting to bring this training to their campuses because the concept of women running for office is obviously on everyone’s mind since we’re seeing it happen in such a historic way.”
“One of the things that I like about Elect Her is that it’s a training ground to a certain extent,” Scott said. “Educating young women, college students—young people, period—about how important it is to have women in political leadership. And it’s important to have men and women hear that message because we need men to understand the importance of having women’s voices.’”
Michael Degroot, a University of Louisville electrical engineering major, said his mother was the leader of his household, so he was surprised at first when he left for college because he saw how few women there are that hold political offices.
“Elect Her showed me how to be an ally and just how to be an effective adversary for women,” Degroot said.
The speakers said that they see importance in holding events like Elect Her because they ultimately are what start young women on their paths to politics.
“One big reason why women run for office is that they were recruited; people tell them to consider running for office,” Kelly said. “I think Elect Her is part of that when we are maybe one of the first voices telling these women to run for office.”
“I hope that young people learn that they matter,” said Scott. “They are important to the political process. We need young people to know that we need their leadership locally and statewide at all levels, both in politics and government and in education and the community because that’s the way forward. It’s gonna be from the next generation.”
The AAUW and Running Start travel to Jamaica, Mexico, and over 50 U.S. cities each year in order to put on Elect Her at an international scale.