By Mira Beinart
For The Diamondback
A University of Maryland organization that aims to empower women in leadership hosted five local politicians Wednesday for Elect Her, an event to teach young women how to run for office.
This university’s chapter of iGNiTE — an organization that’s focused on “igniting political power in every young woman,” according to its slogan — hosted a panel discussion with the politicians. The politicians, all from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, shared their leadership stories. Attendees also participated in a training about how to fundraise, network and build self-confidence.
Morgan Travers, a junior government and politics major who is the vice president of this university’s iGNiTE chapter, moderated the panel.
“We’ve been planning [Elect Her] since August of last year, so it’s been a year in the making,” Travers said. “The goal is to empower women of all majors and backgrounds to let them know that they can lead on-campus and off-campus.”
The featured politicians included Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez, Prince George’s County council member Jolene Ivey, Mount Rainier Mayor Celina Benitez, Montgomery County school board member Lynne Harris and former Prince George’s County school board member Raaheela Ahmed, who is also national legislative and organizing director for 100% Democracy, a group that advocates for universal voting.
Ahmed said the event meant a lot to her because of her ties to this university.
“I was a second-semester freshman here at the University of Maryland when I decided to run for office for the first time,” Ahmed said. “Seeing young women at this institution excel and succeed is important to me.”
Students said they enjoyed the comfortable environment and relatable anecdotes at the event.
Sophomore international relations major Laiba Nisar said she used the event to meet other passionate women and form new relationships.
“I think that talking to the women here made me realize that it’s not just me experiencing [discrimination in the workplace],” Nisar said. “I want to help bring change so we younger women don’t have to feel that way.”
Several panelists and other community members focused on such workplace discrimination in their talks. Ahmed highlighted the struggles women in positions of power face, such as fundraising challenges and the lack of understanding of health issues like premenstrual syndrome.
“I’m glad that there are people that value the voices of women that are historically underrepresented in politics,” Ahmed said.
After the politicians spoke, three members of this university’s Student Government Association spoke to attendees about their experiences with campus leadership as women.
Senior public policy and statistics major Rebecca Navarro, who serves as the SGA’s governmental affairs director, spoke about her experience facing sexual harassment while on campus.
With the SGA, Navarro was able to create a graphic simplifying campus resources available to students who have been affected by sexual assault. She posted those graphics around Eppley Recreation Center to support other students looking for resources. At Wednesday’s event, she emphasized the importance of being part of organizations that help create change around campus.
To close the event, students participated in a campaign simulation where they presented campaign speeches of their own to their peers.
For sophomore Camila Enrique, hearing from her peers in campus organizations inspired her as she was presenting her campaign speech.
“This is absolutely wonderful,” the sophomore international relations and public policy major said. “I definitely am inspired after this.”
The local politicians at Elect Her said they left the event with confidence in the next generation to make change despite the obstacles they face.
“If there’s not a chair there for you, you drag a chair and bring it to the table,” Benitez said. “You make sure nobody kicks you off from where you belong.”