VSG Wants Us to #ElectHer


Grace Adcox

On January 16, Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) Senator Katherine Petosa introduced a bill entitled the Resolution to Fund the Elect Her Workshop. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Petosa and other prominent leaders of VSG, including President Tariq Issa and Vice President Lanier Langdale, institutes on Vanderbilt’s campus the successful #ElectHer program, which seeks to provide young women with the resources and training to run successful student government campaigns. With the passing of this bill, VSG committed to funding this program on Vanderbilt’s campus for the Spring 2019 semester.

Kate Petosa serves as the Senator for the Peabody College this school year. As a sophomore double major in Human and Organizational Development and Public Policy, student government has always been an outlet for her to voice her opinions and develop solutions for the problems her peers face on campus. Petosa developed her passion for implementing the #ElectHer workshop after recognizing that at Vanderbilt, “there is no [woman-centric] space for people… who are interested in government outside of Vanderbilt College Democrats or Vanderbilt College Republicans,” like a Women in Government club, or some other organization with a focus on women interested in politics.

Although Petosa values partisan organizations like VCD and VCR, she notes that these organizations lack effective components of leadership training, something which is a central focus of #ElectHer. This workshop developed under the organizations of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Running Start, and recently transferred entirely to the leadership of Running Start, a larger organization of programs which support women in government. These organizations are strictly nonpartisan, refraining from endorsing candidates regardless of party lines, because of their central mission to encourage women to run for office.

According to AAUW,  #ElectHer serves as, “A one-day nonpartisan training for women on how to run for student government & political office.” This goal of training all women to run for student government and eventually political office reflects the fact that 56% of Congresswomen began their political careers in student government. This aspect really appealed to Petosa, who notes that the mission behind #ElectHer fits more broadly into the aims of VSG in that “it is such an accepting program oriented towards diversity,” which encourages all women to run for office, regardless of their political leanings, socioeconomic status, race, first language, ability, gender or sexual identities, and more.

Petosa indicates that she strongly agrees with the nonpartisan nature of the program because she “really cares about compromise and people working together, and learning to be leaders who can communicate well and who care a lot about the issues,” and many of the other workshops for women in politics lean strongly to one direction of the political spectrum or the other. She attributes this nature of the program as a reason for why so many of her fellow VSG politicians supported this resolution when she introduced her research on the value of #ElectHer at Vanderbilt. Over one hundred universities, including Georgetown, Princeton, and Stanford, have already benefited from the #ElectHer program, and Petosa wants Vanderbilt to see the benefits of reduced gender inequality in student government next.

Another consideration Petosa noted about VSG support for the bill was that, “We see that there’s a gap in gender representation in our national government… which makes us think about how this impacts Vandy.” When the percent of women in VSG Senate rose from 27% last school year to 44% this year, this marked progress for women in student government, but this does not indicate the end of gender inequality in VSG. As another upcoming gender inequality policy initiative she hopes to address in VSG, she mentioned drafting a bill to provide free access to menstrual hygiene products in campus bathrooms.

Since last summer, Petosa worked tirelessly to prepare for the addition of this program to Vanderbilt’s campus under the oversight of VSG. Recently, other members of VSG such as Frances Burton, Julianna Hernandez, and Ellie Ward stepped into roles in a new committee for supporting the implementation of this workshop, alongside other non-VSG students. Passing this resolution in January initiated VSG funding of the #ElectHer workshop and the establishment of a committee by these three young women to bring this program to Vanderbilt’s campus. Petosa looks hopefully to the implementation of this program as a way “for students to recognize and take an interest in the cool and valuable initiatives created by members of VSG working for them.”

Although some pushback in VSG Senate occurred over whether this program should fall under the auspices of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, or if VSG should instead design its own curriculum for a Vanderbilt women in politics workshop, Petosa confidently asserts that the #ElectHer program will effectively mobilize resources and unite those who would benefit from the workshop. Because of the structure of the workshop, there is no cap on how many can participate or whether they even have to be Vanderbilt students, the only limit is how well the event can be advertised. In discussion over the resolution, fellow Senator Marty Grady summarized the value of #ElectHer best. He asked VSG to think not about the small details of the program, but rather to think of the workshop as “an investment in Vanderbilt’s future.”

When asked about her own future aspirations, Petosa spoke excitedly about the crucial role student government has played in shaping her interests. She recalled that, “Growing up, there have been a lot of things I have wanted to be, and throughout it all I have been involved in student government. It’s really fun for me, I like the opportunity and privilege to be able to represent my peers, and it means a lot to me that they trust me with advocating for them, and I feel very passionate about the things I do advocate for.” Through student government, Petosa has had the opportunity to represent her classmates and further develop her own voice as a leader.

If you are interested in participating in the upcoming #ElectHer workshop at Vanderbilt, the event will take place on Sunday, March 31st, 2019. The sign-up for the event is linked below for all women-identifying individuals in the area who have an interest in the workshop.

#ElectHer at Vanderbilt