Politics, historically synonymous with the “old boys’ club”, is becoming anyone’s game. As two women run for President of the United States, it is clear that the gender gap in American politics is narrowing, but not closed. The same is true on BYU’s campus, and three female students are doing their best to expedite this process in the Political Science Department.
Born of concern for the young female students that would follow them, the Women in Politics arm of the BYU Political Affairs Society was founded by Sarah Sheets Curry, Elvira Correa Lazaro and Rachel Stone just more than one year ago.
The goal of the organization is to fill the need for an “empathizing community of diverse political inclinations [that seemed] to go largely unaddressed, especially on a campus so confounded with the competing interests of religion, pressures to marry, and a void of female political alumnae in leadership,” as found in its annual report.
Under the faculty direction of Department Chair Sven Wilson, the three founders legitimized the organization and began holding meetings. Event attendance was slow-going at first, but has gained momentum as more students learn about the club.
This year, to make WIP a better known resource among students of political science at BYU, the leadership sent invitation emails to every woman in a 100 or 200 level political science course, to inform them about the association.
“[The emails] increased our turnout and let the freshwomen know that they have people as resources who actually care about taking care of them in this major,” Stone said. “A lot of these women are ambitious and care a lot about the world and making their voice heard but don’t know what the venue for that would be and we try to offer that for them.”
Examples of past events include sponsored attendance of the Real Women Run event, hosting speech slams, a senior spotlight night, and alumni lectures on campus, but one of the most valuable resources provided by the organization is a mentorship program. Freshwomen and underclassmen who desire to participate list their interests in political science, and are matched with a near-graduated student who shares those interests. Pairs foster camaraderie within the department and expose young students to examples of success.
For Stone, the goal of the organization is met well by this program. She relays the story of one participant.
“After we did the mentorship pairing meeting there was a girl who came up to me and said ‘I’m a freshman, I just arrived here, I got into the political science program at Georgetown, and I gave it up to be here because I felt it was right,’ and she was really seeking to have a community where she could exchange ideas and be challenged and be with the same caliber that she would have been at Georgetown. She came to me with this delight that we would be that venue for her. I came away feeling like all of this was for something, if we just helped this one girl, it was definitely worth it because we were here for her during her freshman year, and I didn’t have that. It makes me feel confident that we can help girls feel comfortable in their academic environment.”
While proud of the organization they have built, Stone is unsure about its future. She hopes that ten, or even five years from now gender specific organizations in politics will be irrelevant.
With equal opportunity as the goal, this girls’ club helps connect driven women to networks that will help them realize dreams of making a difference in their world.
“At first I was worried that we were discriminating against men, but then I talk to some of [them] and ask them if this thing I am doing is worth it, and they all tell me that it is.”