Sunday, November 17, 2013

Elect Her!

Last week, I had the exciting opportunity to facilitate an Elect Her training at the University of Louisville.  Elect Her – Campus Women Win is the only program in the country that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office.  Elect Her is a nonpartisan collaboration between the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Running Start.

The earlier a candidate begins to run for office, the better are his or her chances of climbing the political ladder faster. Twelve of the last nineteen U.S. presidents started their political careers before age 35. When the path to achieve significant political influence and chair a committee is based on seniority, a candidate benefits from being elected when they are young. Additionally, over forty percent of the women who currently serve in Congress began their political careers by serving in student government in their youth. 

A recent study by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox showed that the gender gap in political ambition is evident in college students.  My personal experience concurs with their research. Ten years ago at UC Berkeley, I ran for External Affairs Vice President.  I had over 2,000 votes, but lost by 72.  I considered it the greatest failure of my young adult life.  Ultimately, I feel I lost because I didn't believe in myself.  I wish I had the opportunity to gain confidence through a program like Elect Her.  

Regardless, running for student government was one of the most transformative leadership experiences I have ever had. I expanded my comfort zone in ways I never thought were possible.  I gained valuable public speaking experience.  I learned how to network and present myself professionally.  I built relationships with people who are still my best friends ten years later.  Win or lose, running for student government is a leadership endeavor more young women need to pursue. 
2013 Elect Her by the Numbers
  • 88 percent of the 2013 participants who ran for student government president WON! 
  • 20 percent more students plan to run for student government and political office.  
  • 100 percent of participants reported that they would recommend Elect Her to a friend.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ten Years Ago Today I Realized My Vocation

 *The following may contain triggering language to survivors of violence*

As I get dressed up to go out and celebrate Halloween tonight, I sadly remember how after a night of similar festivities ten years ago changed my life forevermore....

Ten years ago, I awoke to my passion in life.  I realized my vocation was feminism.  For the past ten years, I have dedicated my career and personal mission to advancing the status of women in the world.  For the next decades of my life, I vow to continue to strive for those goals.

I was a sophomore and the fall of 2003 was my first semester being a resident assistant (RA).  On Saturday night, the all male dorm had a Halloween party. I was not officially on RA duty that night, but I went to celebrate.  I saw two of my female residents at the party and talked to them.  When I saw them again on Sunday morning, all of our lives changed.

I don't remember exactly how I was notified, but on Sunday morning, I was informed that two of my female residents were raped that following night.  I was close with these two women.  I knocked on their door, and walked into a dark room of heavy sadness.  The two rape survivors and a few of their close friends were sitting on the floor in silence.  The lights were off.  It felt as if someone had died and we had just come from a funeral. I sat down on the floor with them.  All I could do was just sit there and be with them.  Eventually, they shared their tragic details with me.

The women had been to the hospital, but one of them was still in pain.  Official RA policy restricted me from personally driving her in my car to the hospital.  But, I called up the RA chain and was given permission to go back to the hospital with them.  I waited for her in the emergency room.

I was in shock.  I was overwhelmed.  This was the first time in my life I was exposed to the violence women and girls disproportionately experience due to their sex.  How did this happen?  I knew one of the perpetrators.  He was in one of my classes, and I frequently had to see him after this case.  I don't think he knew I was involved with his situation.  He seemed like a good guy before this happened. I was shocked he was the rapist.

There was only so much I could do to help these two survivors.  The police were not helpful, and the women did not feel supported as they were interrogated.  How did I live in a world where such violence was a common reality?

Sadly, I soon found out that many of my other girlfriends and sorority sisters were also survivors of rape and sexual assault.  I felt deeply compelled to do something about this issue.  After this experience,  all of my volunteer and extracurricular activities were related to feminism.  I should have been a gender studies major, but ended up pursuing an M.A. in Applied Women's Studies at Claremont Graduate University.  The past seven years of my career have been working in the field of gender equality.

Earlier this week, I met up with a girlfriend in her early twenties who is trying to figure out her passion in life.  I shared this story with her.  For better or worst, through this experience, I clearly found my passion in life.  I am deeply grateful to these rape survivors and all the others who have shared their story with me.  I am so inspired by the incredible power survivors have to reclaim their lives and not give up. 

For those still searching for your passion in life, that's OK.  Be patient.  You never know where or when you will learn what it is.  I suggest volunteering or getting involved with different organizations and causes.  You need to learn what you hate to help figure out what you love.  Take new classes, and try to learn new skills.   Check out this previous blog post to find more resources for discovering your passion.

I can't help but end on an uplifting, perhaps cheesy note.  This video by Beyonce on World Humanitarian Day at the United Nations is one of the most inspiring videos I have ever seen.  I wish you all the best in finding and living your passion!

Resources for Rape and Sexual Assault

 Rape and Incest National Network

Bay Area Women Against Rape (the organization that provided resources to these survivors, and that I eventually volunteered with)

Break the Cycle



National Network to End Domestic Violence