‘Elect Her’ teaches young women to run for office


At the end of the session, some students had plans to run for office and others didn’t, but the workshop had at least given them something to think about. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

On Friday afternoon, the Women’s Center programming room was occupied by the “Elect Her” workshop. The nonprofit, nonpartisan group Running Start has hosted the workshop at the University of Connecticut for the past nine years, since before the women’s wave, training young women to run for office, whether that means running for undergraduate student government this year, or the state legislature in ten years.

Led by Running Start Leadership and Programs Director Jessica Kelly and Women’s Center Associate Director Kathy Fischer, the three-hour-long workshop covered important skills for politics, like expanding your network and writing an elevator speech, while also facilitating important discussion about women in politics and hosting several guest speakers.

The activities were largely interactive. Students were asked to actually text somebody they thought would support them during their campaign as part of their network, and later on practiced giving their elevator speeches to one another, voting on the best ones until there was a winner.

“In the future I definitely would like to run for office,” eighth-semester political science major Jessica Weaver said. “This gives me a clear picture of how I can articulate the issues I’m passionate about.”

At the start of the workshop, each student chose an issue that was important to them, which they then used as an example to use on the rest of the activities. Issues important to the young women included economic equity, segregation in Connecticut elementary schools, sexual assault on college campuses and financial literacy.

The guest speakers also interacted with the students by holding a question and answer session at the end of their time. State Representative Jillian Gilchrest answered lots of questions about getting her start in politics and her current projects. She mentioned how being a woman led to different kinds of scrutiny during her campaign: Although she did “come to politics through a feminist lens,” that was all the media wanted to focus on. They paid much more attention to her feminist platform than the work she was doing with taxes or commerce.

In addition to the state representative, USG President Ama Appiah and Vice President Wawa Gatheru spoke as well, explaining how they kept up their confidence as women of color in spaces largely dominated by white men, focusing a lot on positive affirmations.

“You have the ability to be in this position,” Appiah said. “You have the ability to make these decisions for the greater good.”

They also gave advice about skills they built upon for their roles.

“Hearing the USG president I got some good tips on public speaking,” second-semester business student Anika Vincent said.

Besides providing strategies and success stories of women in politics, Kelly started her workshop by providing facts and discussion about the current state of women in politics, explaining why the workshop was even important. According to Kelly, around 23 percent of the House of Representatives is made up of women, and of those women around nine percent are women of color. The United States is ranked 103rd in the world for women in politics. Kelly posed questions to the students about what barriers women face, and why it’s even important for women to be in politics.

At the end of the session, some students had plans to run for office and others didn’t, but the workshop had at least given them something to think about.

“I got inspired,” second-semester accounting major Brooke Derrigo said. “I feel a new fire in my heart. I definitely do plan on running for a position.”

Alex Houdeshell is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.

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