As a first year student at Rutgers University, I enrolled in Byrne Seminar, a one credit pass/fail course designed to allow first year students to explore a topic area of their interest. The seminar I chose, “Political Women: Some Who Dared,” was taught by Professor Ruth Mandel, Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics and founder Eagleton’s Center of American Women in Politics (CAWP). Little did I know that this one-credit pass fail course during my intensive seventeen credit semester would be one of my most eye opening and impactful classes over my entire college career. For the first time in my life, I was hearing names like Geraldine Ferraro, Shirley Chisholm, Christine Todd Whitman (a past governor of my home state of NJ, which I am embarrassed to say I had no idea at the time), Jeannette Rankin, and many others. I wondered why I had never heard these names before in the classroom or read about these women in my textbooks. I learned how underrepresented women are at all levels of elected office in the United States today, especially women of color. This class made me realize how far we have to go to achieve fair representation and that I need to do my part in making sure we get there.
In the years following, I became involved with multiple programs and organizations working to bridge the gender gap in politics. Despite all the incredible work I was exposed to over the years, I was still dissatisfied with the existing political system which created structural barriers for women and people of color wanting to run for public office. I also worked with an initiative on campus that registered students to vote and encouraged them to cast their ballot on Election Day. While talking to my peers, I heard a theme of frustration with the current electoral system. I lost track of how many times I heard the phrase, “My vote won’t really matter anyway.”
This frustration is what brought me to Representation 2020 and FairVote. We need to take on a radical approach to creating a democracy that is representative of our country’s population. I believe the word “radical” has a connotation; radical is not far fetched or unrealistic. The word radical was formed from Latin adjective “radicalis” which means “of or relating to root.” In order to have a more representative democracy, we need to get to the root of the issue which lies in our electoral system. With that said, I am excited to be a Representation 2020 Fellow this year and do my part in working to achieve fair representation in the United States.