Women at the Elect Her event on Stony Brook’s campus in the Student Activities Center. The event, which took place on Nov. 15, empowers and teaches women to run for political office. SAMANTHA ROBINSON/THE STATESMAN

Maame-Esi Otoo is the only female on the Undergraduate Student Government’s seven-member Executive Council. 

Otoo, a senior business major, is the vice president of Clubs and Organizations, and she “know[s] how to do the job.”

“I know what clubs want,” Otoo said. “I know what clubs need. And if I don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”

Otoo was invited to speak at the eighth annual Elect Her event on Nov. 15. Organized by Running Start, a nonprofit that empowers women to get involved in politics by running for office, the workshop attracted around 30 people and aimed to teach and prepare women on running for political office. 

The four-hour event kicked off with a group discussion on why it’s important for women to run for office. 

“I think it’s important for women, especially women who are underrepresented in politics, to [run for] political office because we know what our community needs,” Evelyn Lopez Rodriguez, a junior social work major, said. “Women like AOC, they’re showing that we can … break the cycle, break the glass ceiling.”

Prior to the start of the event, attendees received an interactive booklet where participants were able to fill out exercises led by Lucy Sasiphong, the operations assistant for Running Start and facilitator for Elect Her. The first exercise following the group discussion focused on identifying issues the audience cared about and would consider including in their future campaign platforms.

Some students identified immigrants gaining U.S. citizenship, research funds and Tibet’s lack of freedom as their issues. Jo-Ann Wilson, a second-year graduate student studying social work, pinpointed human rights as her issue. Wilson has gone back to school after 30 years, and she is seeing that children “don’t know who they are.”

“Most of them are living a life based on a narrative given to them through miseducation and through people in their environment [telling] them who they are,” she said. “I’m back in school — and after 30 years ago with these debts, which is crazy — but I’m doing that because I know that these children need to have a different narrative. They need to know who they really are, their real history and their real [self] worth.”

Participants also practiced their networking skills, something Sasiphong called a “great asset.” They texted three people who could be potential allies and asked them to support their hypothetical campaign. Even if it was just for the exercise, Sasiphong reminded the audience that this could turn into an actual campaign in the future.

Elect Her also invited Debra Mulé, a Nassau County District 5 legislator, to speak. Mulé was elected to the Freeport Board of Education in 2006, something she said she didn’t initially want to do.

“I really had no interest, and I was actually a little bit afraid of doing it,” she said. “The thought of putting myself out there and running a campaign and having my name on lawn signs, that just sounded horrifying to me.”

But Mulé decided to run after her family and friends encouraged her to do so, and she won the board seat. She went on to become board president, vice president and then trustee.

She also said she felt it was important to include more women in positions of political leadership. 

“We know women represent roughly half the population, and so we should have at least as many women in elected positions as it represents the population,” Mulé said. “I think that people bring different strengths and weaknesses to things … and I think there’s strength in having different perspectives.”

The last exercise allowed participants to create and rehearse their elevator speech. They gathered into three groups, and each group selected the best speech to present to the entire audience. The winner of the elevator speech competition was Kim Burton, a second-year graduate student studying social work. She gave her speech on healthcare and was awarded a submission to a stump speech competition during Running Start’s live campaign simulation at its Young Women to Watch award show.

Students like Ashley Weiman, a first-year graduate student studying social work, attended Elect Her in order to educate themselves on the running for office process. 

“I just don’t feel like I know a lot about campaigning and certain areas of politics,” she said. “So I felt like it would be a good opportunity for me to learn some new information and see if it sparks my interest.”

Tenzin Tsetan saw the event as an “investment for the future.”

“I saw [that Elect Her] was willing to help young women run successfully for campaigns, and I was like, ‘I could definitely be getting like leadership skills out of this to help run for my personal interest,’” she said. “I want to run for a senator position at USG here at Stony Brook, so I definitely thought, ‘Oh, this could help me.’”

Lasheca Lewis, a law school graduate who works for Assemblywoman Jean Lapierre, emphasized that she wants to see more female candidates elected to political office. 

“I’m supporting any woman who’s qualified and speaks to my values and initiatives,” Lewis said. “I would support her.”

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