From 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., University of Maine women gathered at the Wells Conference Center to join in the fourth yearly Elect Her event on Saturday, Oct. 1.
Elect Her – Campus Women Win is a free, one-day conference for undergraduate women within the University of Maine, as well as campuses across the state. Its purpose is to encourage, support and teach female students to run for student government, as well as future political offices or other leadership positions.
This yearly event is the result of the partnership of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Running Start, both organizations dedicated to reaching out to young women interested in political careers. While the Elect Her program has a number of events across the country, the University of Maine is notable for hosting the only Elect Her event in the state.
The event focused on a number of hands–on activities and discussions about the importance of young women running for office, as well as how to deal with common obstacles.
“We find this work important to instill leadership skills, but also to show women what their potential can be, in both the private and public sector,” Campus Women Win Facilitator Katie Shorey said. “We think when women have the training and skills and also learning from other women who have been trailblazers, when they see their potential and what they’re able to be, they’re not only more likely to run, but more likely to win as well.”
It was clear that passionate belief in future female politicians was shared among the events’ speakers. Vice President of Research Dr. Carol Kim welcomed the participants by sharing statistics that, in her opinion, needed to change: “Of the top 100 institutions, only one-third have women presidents or women in leadership positions in their student government. College demographics are changing, it’s not 50/50, it’s more 60/40 in women’s favor and yet only one-third of the students taking student government positions are women. Why? Because women need more encouragement to apply…lack role models in these positions. As of 2016, 23 states have never had a female governor. 22 states have never elected a woman to the Senate. Less than 24% of Congress is female… We really have to start shifting the common mindset from ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to ‘I want to do that.’”
The student participants were just as passionate about being part of the proceedings.
“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” Jill Hein said. “It’s always great to be in a supportive environment with your peers and be able to learn with them and I think this day’s really unique, in that we get to learn about the political process and how to be involved in it personally, not just observe.”
At 10:30 a.m., the speakers took a step back for a screening of “NextStepRun!” a documentary highlighting the stories of four women from diverse backgrounds and their races to the House of Representatives for their respective states. The film’s producer and director, Pamela Maus, was also present for discussion and was quick to note that “the film is not about politics, it’s about leadership. There are women from both major political parties from the film, but you are unlikely to know whether they are Democratic or Republican from watching.”
Diverting the focus away from the involved parties is also in line with the nonpartisan event as a whole.
“What most people don’t understand is…women lead in a different style than men do…but people don’t understand it because it’s not the norm [within the field]. And that’s one of the things that, whether a woman is Republican, Democratic, Green Party or whatever, I’m hoping they will infuse their style into our process that will change the dynamics. And that’s really the heart of why I’m doing this.”