Approximately 40 female Duke students gathered for nearly five hours on Sunday, March 5 to participate in an interactive campaign workshop. Sponsored by Duke’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service (POLIS) and Duke Assistant Professor Deondra Rose, the event was led by Susannah Wellford—the founder and president of nonpartisan organization Running Start.
Based on the principle that the U.S. needs more women in elected positions, Running Start has operated nationally for a decade, providing the knowledge, support, encouragement, and inspiration many young women seek when considering running.
When it comes to gender representation in the U.S. government, the numbers are staggering: women comprise only 19.4% of Congress and are similarly severely underrepresented in the North Carolina state legislature. Ms. Wellford shared a recent study showing Rwanda is #1 in the percentage of women occupying national legislative seats. Bolivia and Cuba are #’s 2 and 3.
The U.S. finds itself at #101.
Tara Bansal, president of Duke Student Government, shared her sentiments on what it was like as a woman to run multiple times for elected office. She discussed the importance of being true to oneself—something echoed by Leslie Boyd, at-large board member of Union County (NC) Public Schools. Ms. Boyd urged the workshop attendees to remember that “No one can ever take your vote. No one can ever take your voice.”
All three speakers fielded questions from students throughout the day, ranging from “Should I run if I’m not likely to win” to “How should I respond to negative attacks?” The participants included first-year students, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and first- and second-year master’s students. Each came to learn more about the ins and outs of running for an elected office, whether on campus or beyond.
The event ended with participants practicing and delivering a stump speech. Ms. Wellford cautioned that while public speaking can be incredibly stressful for many people, overcoming one’s fears is a key step toward accomplishing more in life.
Ms. Wellford’s key takeaway for the students was a call to action: “You’re bright. You’re talented. You’re motivated. If you don’t run, who will?”