Session Prepares Young Women to Run for Office

Center for Student Engagement, Elect Her and Running Start co-sponsored the Saturday program.

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Krishna Ghodiwala, associate director of the D.C. Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives, addresses GW students at a session aimed at preparing young women to run for elected office. (William Atkins/GW Today)
February 26, 2017

By T. Kevin Walker

Jamie Jones Miller’s grandfather started her a campaign fund when she was still a teenager and regularly contributed to it for more than 20 years. The fund sits untapped. Ms. Jones Miller is content with her job behind the scenes as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), but the gesture by her “papa” imbued her with a sense that her possibilities were limitless.

“It was his way of saying, ‘I believe in you,’ and that is so important,” she told George Washington University students Saturday at the Marvin Center during a Center for Student Engagement-sponsored event to encourage college women to seek public office.

The daylong seminar, which included training sessions on issues-building and strategy development and guest presenters like Ms. Jones Miller, was facilitated by Krysta Jones of Elect Her, a collaborative of the American Association of University Women and the nonprofit Running Start.

Ms. Jones Miller said with women making up just 19.4 percent of Congress and the United States ranking 100 worldwide of countries where women hold elected offices, the mission of Elect Her is essential to addressing issues like the gender pay gap.

“We provide skills and confidence to women like you who can run the world,” Ms. Jones Miller told attendees.

History and research have shown that women in public office go the extra mile to uplift other women and families, Ms. Jones said. That’s certainly been true of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to Krishna Ghodiwala, who addressed attendees after Ms. Bowser had to cancel her scheduled appearance.

Ms. Ghodiwala is associate director of the D.C. Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives, which Ms. Bowser jump-started and made a key priority after voters elected her D.C.’s second female mayor in 2014. One of the office’s most popular programs, Fresh Start Wednesday, offers weekly free business and career training programs to women throughout the District.

During her remarks at the recent Women’s March on Washington, Ms. Bowser referred to herself as a “chick mayor” and railed against the double standard that results in female elected officials at every level being “more harshly criticized, more frequently criticized and more wrongly criticized.”

Ms. Ghodiwala, who cut her teeth in politics as an organizer in Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, said Ms. Bowser fights the double standard by staying on top of the issues that affect her constituents and by having faith in her agenda.

“She is always informed. That is your biggest weapon … and having confidence is half the battle,” Ms. Ghodiwala said.

Elect Her holds similar events at colleges and universities throughout the country to encourage young women to run for student government and other campus offices. The organization believes such elections can serve as springboards to local, state and national elected offices.

Imani Ross is of a similar mind. While her immediate goal is winning reelection to the GW Student Association Senate, the sophomore sees the White House in her future.

“I would say without a doubt: 2032 Imani Ross [for president],” she said, speaking as a panelist alongside other elected student leaders. “I genuinely like being in this public office role, and I have started getting into policy. This is definitely a stepping stone or a window.”

On the topic of sexism, the panelists said they had experienced nothing overt but that covert actions, like male colleagues attempting to interrupt or “talk over” them, are common.

Daniela Harton, president of the GW Panhellenic Association, said rising to challenges is how she rejects stereotypes and earns respect.

“Part of it is just proving them wrong,” she said. “Just come out and show them that you can, and then do it better than anybody.” 

 

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