Campus women get political

Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is a potential presidential candidate in the 2016 election. (Courtesy of AP)

It’s no secret that women are a minority in politics. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, only 18.5 percent of the House seats are held by females, and only 20 percent of the Senate positions are led by women.

The Elect Her event coming to campus Friday is looking to improve those numbers, starting with college-aged women. One of the prominent featured speakers is a woman who has dedicated her career to building the powerful and respected campaigns — and successful elections — of fellow women running to lead in the nation’s political ring.

Jessica Grounds is the Director of the Women’s Office at Ready for Hillary, the super PAC for potential presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Prior to moving to Ready for Clinton, Grounds co-founded Running Start, a non-partisan organization aimed at bringing young women into politics and bridging the gender equality gap. She served as the executive director beginning in 2010.

Grounds said she developed her passion for supporting and increasing the number of women in politics early on, working two separate campaigns for female politicians during her time as an undergraduate at Pepperdine University.

What started as a volunteer mission in college has now transformed into her career.

“We’ve really got to change the culture around women…in politics,” Grounds said.

Her mission in co-founding Running Start was to provide women a viable option for creating the changes they want to see that too few women explore.

“We really wanted to show young women that politics was an avenue to make that change,” Grounds said. “We started with [training] 20 high school girls in 2007…we’ve grown to train 8,000 women [in high school, college and post-graduate].”

Running Start is the umbrella organization above Elect Her, which partners with the American Association of University Women to travel to colleges and universities across the country. The events offer workshops and seminars educating young women on political articulation, fundraising, networking and a wide variety of other skills and personal experience stories meant to empower women to run for elected office.

Grounds said one of the best ways for women to get involved in politics early is through student government positions.

“It’s really…a day for SMU young women to come together and say, ‘I’ve always wanted to make an impact,’ and to think about student government as a way to do that,” Grounds said.

Graduating senior Savannah Stephens has served on student senate in several capacities her past four years at SMU, and will be speaking on a panel with fellow women Senators Monica Finnegan, Fantine Giap and Becca Rothstein.

Looking back, Stephens said the experience she’s gained has allowed her to hone her voice as a representative and leader.

“There was so much empowerment behind it, and a realization…that I could still make some sort of difference that really mattered,” Stephens said.

It’s an experience she thinks every SMU woman should consider.

“It’s wonderful to graduate with degrees, but it’s also wonderful to graduate knowing I can be a force for good,” Stephens said.

Sophomore and Tower Center intern Karly Hanson said she’s especially excited to hear Grounds’ perspective on bringing more women into political leadership.

“Elect Her serves an important cause because women are so underrepresented,” Hanson said. “I think it’s important for everyone to be involved in their community, and this training session will teach girls how to have a voice and how to communicate an effective message [which] is an extremely useful, and even essential, skill to have.”

Grounds’ additional advice for young women looking to engage politically relates back to her own college experiences: volunteer on a local campaign.

“Campaigns always need help,” Grounds said.

She said the question for women to examine is, “Why does politics matter for us?”

Friday will revolve around the question that serves as one of the crucial starting points for much of the work in advocating for female politicians.

“Why is there this problem that there is a dirth of women in politics in this country?”

Friday’s events will also feature speakers Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Texas) and expert on congressional elections and the success of women candidates Barbara Palmer, as well as SMU’s Director of the Carey M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility Rita Kirk and Tower Center Senior Fellow Dennis Simon.

“It will be a really cool conversation about…how we need the young women at SMU to think about leading now and also in the future,” Grounds said.

 

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