Tier III leaders discuss being women in leadership roles with Senator Mae Flexer

The Tier III leaders discuss being women in leadership roles with Senator Mae Flexer. For the first time, all six leaders of UConn's Tier III organizations are women. (Anna Zarra Aldrich/The Daily Campus)

Six leaders of the University of Connecticut’s Tier III organizations met with Connecticut State Senator, Mae Flexer in the Women’s Center library Thursday night.

“When I saw the front page of The Daily Campus a few weeks ago and I saw that all of these organizations, for the first time ever, would be led by women, I was really excited,” Flexer said.

The leaders of Nutmeg Publishing, The Daily Campus, Student Union Board of Governors (SUBOG), Undergraduate Student Government (USG), UConnPIRG, UConn Student Television (UCTV) and UConn’s radio station, WHUS, will all be led by women next semester.

The women discussed the challenges they face in leadership positions due to their gender, in a relaxed atmosphere.

At the end of the night, each woman was presented with a certificate from the Connecticut General Assembly acknowledging her accomplishment.

Flexer began the conversation by allowing each woman to share her experience with the organization she will be leading.

Many of the women shared that they were encouraged by leaders in their respective organizations to take on larger leadership roles.

“They really wanted to hear my voice,” Julia D’Alessandro, the SUBOG president for 2017-18, said about her experience with the SUBOG leadership early on in her involvement with the organization.

Several of the women said they were originally apprehensive to take on a leadership role in their organizations for a variety of reasons.

“From what I had seen, once you got into higher leadership you had to let some things go,” Casey Lambert, the 2017-18 President of UConn PIRG, said.

Elise Sotolongo, the 2017-18 editor-in-chief for Nutmeg Publishing, said she was nervous about taking on the additional responsibilities associated with the position.  

“For editor-in-chief, I was very nervous about running for it because our current editor-in-chief had been doing it for two years,” Sotolongo said. “I felt obligated to because I worked with her the most over these two years and I saw all the behind the scenes stuff that happens, so I felt I was the right person to do that, I was just scared.”

Flexer said she noticed the concerning trend of women feeling they were unqualified for leadership positions.

“Women don’t think they’re qualified just yet, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but men always think they’re qualified for whatever it is,” Flexer said.

Irma Valverde, the newly elected president of USG spoke about her experience with adversity during her campaign.

“People were calling me a slut even though they had no idea who I was,” Valverde said. “I would be trying to campaign and then I would run into a building and cry.”

Valverde discussed the inequity of expectations for women as public figures.

“As a woman, if you don’t look presentable, people will say something,” Valverde said. “Dan (Byrd, the current USG President) doesn’t have to do his makeup.”

Lambert said her father wanted her to have a gender-neutral name to prevent discrimination against her based on her gender, a story Flexer said resonated with her.

“I’ve always understood you can’t be a woman you have to be as much of a person as possible to garner that respect,” Lambert said. “I’m thankful for the gender-neutral email because I don’t think half the people would have responded to me otherwise.”

The women discussed how they want to support each other as Tier III leaders.

“We all do different things, but we all work to make student life better in very different ways and we all want to put up a united front to show the campus that we are working together,” Lisette Johnson, the 2017-2018 USG Vice President, said.  

Valverde said she looks forward to having a supportive community of other Tier III leaders for the coming year.

“When things go wrong supporting one another, little things like that make a huge difference,” Valverde said.

Flexer said she was glad to see the community the women have already begun to establish.

“It was great to see the community they’ve established, women know how to create a coalition and get things done and that’s clearly what’s going to happen here,” Flexer said.

Flexer asked the leaders what they will do to ensure their roles will be filled with other women once they graduate, which was a priority for her when she decided to leave the Connecticut General Assembly to become a Senator.

“It was really important to me that I wasn’t stepping away and making the percentage of women in the General Assembly even lower than it already was,” Flexer said.

Molly Stadnicki, the 2017-18 editor-in-chief for the Daily Campus said she will encourage qualified applicants to apply for the position, regardless of their gender.

“Obviously, I want to encourage a woman to take over my position next year, but if I see anyone that I think should step up, male or female, I’m going to encourage both of them and choose whoever I think should be in this position on an equal playing field,” Stadnicki said.

Kathleen Holgerson, the Director of the Women’s Center, encouraged the women to use their positions as a platform to share their stories to change the way people view women in power.

“Y’all are in leadership positions to say how gender identity, diversity, all of that matters in the work we do, so that hopefully, we can get a point where the numbers don’t matter,” Holgerson said. “We have the opportunity to create a space to think differently and we all have an obligation to do that.”  


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.