Elect Her comes to UB

Workshop looks to increase female participation in politics


*Please note the appendage below. 

It takes a woman 16 weeks to earn as much as a man in a given year and the United States is 75th in the world in terms of women holding positions in government, according to Diana Cihak, founder of
Women Elect, an organization which inspires women to run for political office.

“[It’s] embarrassing. I’m embarrassed. Are you? Let’s do something about that,” Cihak said.

On Saturday, UB students and local elected officials gathered on campus to do just that.

UB hosted Elect Her – Campus Women Win, an American Association of University Women (AAUW) workshop designed to inspire female students to pursue politics and student government on Saturday in Capen Hall. The AAUW, UB’s Undergraduate Academies, Office of Student Engagement and the Student Association sponsored the event, which will be held on 50 campuses this year. Fifty-eight students attended the event.

Minahil Khan, a junior communication and political science major and UB Council student representative, organized the event and coordinated all of the guest speakers who attended.

“I want to improve the quality of politics in the national government and student government level,” Khan said. “I wanted this event to inspire participation in student government to ensure we have a quality government.”

Elect Her featured participation-based activities that encouraged attendees to consider the lack of women representation in government and to speak up about the issues they have in their communities. The workshop allowed students to practice their public speaking, develop campaign skills and strategies and network with local elected officials.

The coordinator of the day’s activities, Kimberly Pollard, opened the workshop by asking thought-provoking questions that centered on helping students discover their “why” – the reason they wanted to get involved in student government or local politics. Participants had the opportunity to stand up and express to the audience their opinions on an issue they would like to take a stance on.

Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a New York State Assemblywoman and Saturday’s keynote speaker, spoke about her beginnings in politics as well as her current focus in office – education for minorities. Her talk was geared toward motivating female guests to take action and initiative in winning election to offices of state and national government.

“There’s no reason why someone who’s eligible to vote can’t run for office. You can and you should,” Peoples-Stokes said. “The United States is a great, great country but for the great that it is, it could be better.”

Daniel Carter, a junior psychology major, said Peoples-Stokes’ speech inspired him to realize women really do have the power to make an impact in government and don’t have to let traditional barriers keep them out of office.

Following a networking luncheon on the fifth floor of Capen, students were able to ask questions to a panel of SA’s executive office. The panel consisted of President James Ingram, Treasurer Sade Cadle, International Club Coordinator Tazrin Hossain, and SUNY Delegate Halley Waldorf. The panel answered questions about winning their elected positions, their reasons for running for office and strategies for campaigning and campaign rules. Khan, who hosted the panel, also asked if any of the members had ever experienced any gender discrimination in their positions or during their campaigning process.

Cadle, the SA’s first-ever female treasurer, said that many students were expecting a male when they came into the SA office looking for the treasurer.

“They would come into the office and say, ‘Where is he, where is the SA treasurer?’” she said. “And I would say, it’s a she.”

On forming an election ticket, Ingram said he needed a team that first and foremost could win the election, but was also representative of the UB student body.

“I wanted a diverse group of students to represent interests from all groups of people at UB,” Ingram said.

When discussing SA’s regulations for campaigning for student government positions, the panel stressed being assertive in forging relationships with all potential voters, utilizing social networks to secure votes and creating a strong social support group to carry candidates through the stress of campaigning.

When asked by a student who uses UB’s Accessibility Resources about making elections easier for students from that office, Ingram said he is open to the idea of an electronic voting platform for future SA elections. He is also considering allowing students to run as individuals for specific positions without needing to comprise an entire eight-person ticket.

Pollard continued the workshop by sharing networking tips and stressed the importance of developing networking skills and expanding a network of contacts. Pollard is involved in nonprofit organizations that donate to the Wounded Warrior Project and flew to UB from Washington, D.C. last minute to host part of the event.

“We don’t always know who is in our field or has shared interests so it’s important to have an open mind [concerning networking],” Pollard said.

Pollard discussed maintaining a positive attitude and body language, smiling, firmly shaking the other person’s hand and using direct eye contact when speaking to possible networking contacts.

Victoria Robbins, a junior psychology major, said she appreciated the practicality of the lessons taught in the workshop.

“[I like] how applicable the skills practiced today are in real life – building your network and learning how to network and present yourself appropriately whether running for a political campaign or not,” Robbins said.

Some students and staff members said their favorite event was the elevator speech development discussion and practices, which occurred at the end of the workshop.

An elevator speech is a short speech – roughly two sentences – that includes your full name, the position you’re running for, why you are running and what people can do to help you win your election. Students were asked to develop their own elevator speeches and present them to small groups, which voted on the best speech of the group.

“The elevator speech was the most profound exercise today because it taught participants that they need to leverage their networks and be unique in their ideas and approaches to solving issues,” said Hadar Borden, director of UB Undergraduate Academies. “I think this workshop will give students the push they need to pursue goals.”

Group winners presented their speeches to the entire workshop, and were given reconstructive feedback. The entire workshop then voted on a “president” and “vice president.”

The workshop leaders stressed that the enthusiasm and participation in the workshop should be carried over into students’ communities to spread awareness of girls and women in politics and government.

Shane Nolan, a sophomore electrical engineering major and Elect Her planning committee member, said the group’s “unified like-mindedness in pursuing political endeavors” was his favorite part of the workshop.

“This group’s mentality can be inspiring to go further in our careers and studies,” he said.

* A previous version of this article incorrectly stated it takes a woman 16 months to earn as much as a man in a given year. It has been corrected to say weeks.

Tyler Szczesniak is a contributing writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com