“Elect Her” Empowers Stony Brook Students to Create Change
Members of Elect Her, a Stony Brook organization aimed at empowering and training young women to run for office at all levels, gathered to hear the inspirational success stories of local women legislators as part of the recent event “Elect Her, Stony Brook Women Win.”
Setauket resident Anna Lubitz, a senior biology major, helped co-found Elect Her in 2012. She has been serving as its student liaison for the past three years. Elect Her was funded at Stony Brook by a grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the nonprofit organization Running Start. Stony Brook was one of only 13 universities nationwide that won the grant to host a training session in 2012 and there are now more than 30 schools participating.
A winner of several campus political campaigns, Lubitz embodies the organization’s message — of young women finding their voices and making a positive difference in the world.
“The knowledge I gained from the program helped me to achieve some of my most difficult goals,” Lubitz said. “Whether it was running a successful campaign in my sophomore year and winning the position of USG president in 2012–2013, or running for acting vice president in the SUNY Student Assembly and winning that election.”
Her accomplishments include overseeing a budget of roughly $3.1 million as SUNY Undergraduate Student Government president and planning and executing the SUNY Student Assembly Fall 2013 Conference in Rochester for approximately 300 student leaders across the 64 SUNY campuses.
Lubitz didn’t stop there — for the past two summers she represented Stony Brook at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders in Washington D.C.
Lubitz credits Elect Her for solidifying her aspirations to run for public office someday. “Finding your voice, following the passion of your dreams and standing up to fear itself are all attributes of a strong woman leader,” she said.
Senior Kerri Mahoney, an ecosystems and human impact major, is another Elect Her success story. She currently interns for Sixth District Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, who delivered her own message of personal empowerment at the event.
Anker said that she found her voice through experience — the first time she went door-to-door she would simply ask constituents for their votes, but during her re-election campaign she had gained the confidence to ask them what they would like her to change. She said she encountered male resistance from both parties, which she overcame only through research, persistence and support from women legislators such as U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Mahoney, also the current vice president of Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Clubs and Organizations, said that exposure to Elect Her and experience working in student government made her realize that student clubs and organizations needed a better ally.
“They were not informed about new policies and procedures,” she said, “which inspired me to run for office myself. I realized that if I wanted to see change, I would have to help make it happen.”
She said she won the race with 1,200 student votes. “I honestly didn’t know that many people knew my name on campus,” she said.
Not every student inspired by Elect Her has political aspirations beyond the collegiate level. Junior psychology major Mallory Rothstein, who introduced Mahoney to Elect Her, has served a term as USG senator of the College of Arts and Sciences and another as the USG executive vice president, but will not run for student office again.
“Attending Elect Her really gave me the confidence I needed to know I could help change the Stony Brook campus if elected,” said Rothstein. “Running for USG gave me a great network and relationship with administration on campus and I made a lot of friends while campaigning and serving in the office. I have been able to see legislation I’ve written or voted on help make things better for clubs. But I learned that politics is not for me. I hope that more women run for student government and that they see that politics is for them because I definitely believe that we need more women in politics in general.”
Keynote speaker Valerie Cartright, who is serving her first term as Town of Brookhaven councilwoman, recounted how she was approached by Former Brookhaven Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher, who urged her to run for office. Cartright admitted that she was initially reluctant, due in large part to the perception of politics as corrupt.
After careful thought and self-reflection, she reminded herself of her journey to becoming an attorney. “As a lawyer I had heard that all lawyers are liars and ambulance chasers. I learned you make the profession, not the other way around. I thought, ‘Not only can I do this, I need to do this.’”Cartright realized that this was an opportunity to continue to make a difference in the lives of others and serve the community at large.
Her message was not lost on senior health sciences major Nicole Bustamante, who is the current health science senator for the USG. “Elect Her has shown me the importance of women in politics,” said Bustamante. “As a developed nation, we are lagging when it comes to female leaders represented in government.”
According to Elect Her facilitator Krysta Jones, the United States ranks 80th in the world in in the category of women’s political representation, behind countries such as Uganda, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
“Hillary Clinton garnered 18 million votes in 2008 (in her presidential primary bid for the Democratic nomination) and there are still a lot of people saying there will never be a woman president,” said Cartright. “It’s proven that women legislate differently and are more likely to collaborate. Women are amazing creatures. Remember it and own it. The sky is the limit. We’re already breaking through.”
—By Glenn Jochum; photos by John Griffin