In partnership with the American Association of University Women and Running Start, the annual Elect Her – Campus Women Win program came to UMBC on March 10 to bridge the gap between campus women and politics.
Elect Her, the only program in the nation designed to train college women to run for student government offices, connects students with political speakers in order to, “expand the pipeline to women running for office and to diminish the longstanding political leadership gender gap.” Speakers of all sociopolitical backgrounds are expected to attend, including Republican strategist and Running Start trainer Rina Shah and Maryland State Delegate Mary Washington, a Democrat representing District 43.
The longstanding effort to provide college women with the tools and resources to run for office stems from the larger issue of lacking female representation. Despite being half of the population, women only represent 20 percent of Congress, 25 percent of state legislature seats and 12 percent of governorships. According to an American University study, college-aged women are much less likely to run for political office than their male counterparts. Many studies point to several factors that play a role in molding girls’ and boys’ political ambitions as early as childhood — including support from family and friends, involvement in extracurriculars and waning self-confidence.
Kate Drabinski, senior lecturer of gender women’s studies and director of the Women Involved In Learning and Leadership program, said that even though UMBC has had a female president in the past, “so few women,” run for top elected positions, and even then, it is usually for offices of treasurer and vice president.
“Part of how representation works is we can be who we see we can be,” Drabinski said. “When we don’t see women being in top positions, it’s harder for us to imagine we can belong up in there.“
That is why Drabinski, as one of the key directors and organizers for the event — along with graduate assistants Ruken Isik, Elle Everhart and senior political science major Meghan Lynch — is excited that UMBC has continued to involve itself with a project that encourages women to ‘run their own campaigns.’
“At UMBC, you get to practice running in a diverse community where you get to talk to a lot of people,” she said, adding the past success that former UMBC students had after finishing the program. “Some [students] decide to run for office [outside of UMBC], some work for UMBC, etc.”
The event ran from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building Room 011 where trainers taught attendees how to build a message for their platform, craft a communication strategy and figure out what it takes to win an elected position.
While the event has garnered much anticipation, it has also opened up the conversation about whether female voices in politics are critical now more than ever given the currently tense political climate.
“Here’s the thing about politics. It’s always a struggle,” noted Drabinski. “We’ve seen a lot of advances in the past decade. But it’s not like we were all ‘free’ before Donald Trump was elected. Backlash is never-ending. It’s [just] hard and scary to see how backlash works. We’re all flapping our wings in the general direction of the world we want. It’s a strong wind. And we have to flap a little harder.”
In retrospect, she added that, although the event does not support the notion that being a woman alone grants a certain power, there is power in playing an active role in your society.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Drabinski said. “And if [women] aren’t at the table bringing ideas, then ultimately they’ll pay the price. Women in leadership positions means better ideas, better sense of priorities and what matters politically and making sure we have a diversity of problem-namers and problem-solvers to make the world we want.”
In response to women who may not be entirely sure if politics is in their future, Drabrinski stated, “Even if you’re not interested in running for office, you are definitely interested in making the best place for yourself and the community where you are. The skills of figuring out what’s important to you and communicating to others the changes you want to make in your community are what truly matter.”