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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Upcoming Elect Her Workshop Encourages Women to Run for Office

Particularly in the current political climate, the fact that women make up less than 20 percent of the representatives in Congress concerns many. Elect Her is a national program that encourages more women to run for government and gives them the skills and resources necessary to alter this pattern of male-dominated political leadership.

On Saturday, March 3, the Women’s Resource Center at Chellis House is bringing the Elect Her workshop to Middlebury’s campus. Also sponsored by Feminist Action at Middlebury (FAM), Middlebury College Democrats, the Center for Community Engagement, MiddVote, the Student Government Association (SGA) and the political science department, the workshop will run from 12:30–4 p.m. in Wilson Hall of McCullough.

All female-identifying or non-binary students are encouraged to attend by signing up at go/electher. Free sushi and desserts will be available for lunch.

The Elect Her program was originally developed in 2007 by Running Start and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), national nonprofit organizations that train young women interested in politics to run for office. Running Start has discovered that only four women in Congress today are under 40 years old, and that although women running for office win at the same rates as men, many fewer women run in the first place. As a result, Running Start’s mission is to empower young women to find their voice and gain the confidence they need to put themselves out there.

In addition to their Elect Her program, which alone visits about 50 colleges per year and has trained over 10,000 college women since its creation, Running Start also runs several internships and has recently initiated a social-media campaign to challenge sexism in politics. Distributing sheets of paper that read #ILookLikeAPolitician at their workshops, Running Start has encouraged young women to pose with the hashtag and post their photos to social media in order to change societal perceptions of who can be a leader.

Rana Abdelhamid ’15, now an internationally recognized human-rights advocate, first brought the Elect Her program to Middlebury in 2013. It found huge success, with about 100 students in attendance.

However, the workshop has not been held at Middlebury since, and Chellis House director Karin Hanta, who collaborated with Abdelhamid five years ago and went on sabbatical immediately afterward, initiated its return this March.

“At the time we did [the first workshop], there hadn’t been a female student-government president for a long time,” Hanta said. Following the workshop, a female SGA president was voted into office for the first time in what Hanta estimated to be about seven years.

Though female representatives now make up 50 percent of Middlebury’s SGA, this statistic is not reflected at the state or national level, and Hanta said that she decided to bring the Elect Her workshop back to Middlebury in light of the current political climate. “We just want to keep up the heat,” she said.

Susannah Wellford, who is the co-founder of both Running Start and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC), will facilitate the Elect Her workshop this year. She co-founded WUFPAC, Running Start’s predecessor, in 1999 with a similar dedication to electing young women to political office. The organization is now the only nonpartisan political action committee in the United States.

Ruth Hardy, Lauren Sampson and Kristina Guerrero Sylvester from Emerge Vermont will also be attending the workshop to speak on a panel about local female elected officials. Hardy is the executive director of Emerge Vermont, which is the state chapter of Emerge America, a democratic training program for women leaders that supports candidates throughout their campaigns. Sampson and Sylvester are both alumni of Emerge Vermont’s program, and Sylvester is also the founder and CEO of TurboPUP, a company that sells compact bars of dog food to take on the go.

Throughout the four-hour training, students will work in both small and large groups to develop leadership skills. The four central exercises will help students formulate their main campaign issue, learn how to build their network of support and give an elevator pitch and then give them a taste of a real campaign through a group simulation. The workshop will also include an interview with two female representatives from Middlebury’s SGA about their own experiences running for office.

Though the Elect Her workshop is designed to train young women to run for government positions, this year’s program organizers emphasized that the training can be beneficial for anyone.

“[The workshop] is really good for getting women into government positions and that kind of thing, but also for just general leadership and being inspired in that way,” said workshop organizer Mikayla Hyman ’20. “These are general skills that cross over no matter what you want your career to be, and there are a lot of different ways you can learn from this.”