The Ohio State Women Student Initiatives program is hosting an event this week on the rising influence of women’s voting power in American politics.
The American Woman: The Rising American Electorate will include speakers representing women of differing roles in politics who represent the diversity of American women. Speaking guests include Wendy Smooth, and associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at OSU; Christina Bejarano, associate professor of political science from the University of Kansas; Glynda Carr, the co-founder of the black women’s leadership organization Higher Heights for America; and Christine Chen, founder and executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Votes.
Gisele Jeter-Bennett — an intercultural specialist within Women Student Initiatives, an office within the Student Life Multicultural Center –– is the organizer of the event. The event was developed by Jeter-Bennett when she attended a conference held by American Democracy Studies at OSU, and aims to make women voters more confident and knowledgeable this election.
“I was sitting there, listening to these women, who are scholars and activists and political strategists,” Jeter-Bennett said. “I thought that this is something that college students — primarily college women — should hear, and really listen and talk and engage with other women who are involved in politics on different levels.”
The event will include a series of dialogues about the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality, and how they influence women’s political and civic engagement.
Smooth has 20 years of experience researching and studying the role of women of color in electoral politics and voting.
She plans to discuss the effect of outreach initiatives, the role black women are playing in this election, women’s responses to Hillary Clinton as a candidate and whether having a woman as a presidential nominee will shatter the glass ceiling.
There is also set to be a discussion on other topics that Smooth believes are important to women in this election, including equal pay, sick leave and social movements like “Black Lives Matter.”.
These issues, not the sex of the candidate, are what matters to women voters, Smooth said.
“I think one of the largest misconceptions is that women are purely driven by symbolic or emotional voting in this election cycle, and that women are strictly adhering to this idea that ‘(Democratic presidential candidate Hillary) Clinton is a woman, so I will, by default, vote for her,’” Smooth said. “As we’re seeing at the polls, there’s a lot more substance to the women’s vote.”
Jeter-Bennett said the event is also an opportunity for women to think about whether candidates have women’s interests at heart. She said looking at candidates in this way can help young women make a more thoughtful decision at the polls.
The discussion intentionally includes experts of diverse backgrounds to represent the diversity among women voters in the United States.
“If we’re talking about the American woman, who is she? She’s not one race, she’s not one ethnicity, she does not have just one sexuality or one religion,” Jeter-Bennett said. “Women are going to cast their votes based upon their experiences, their journey, so I think it is important to have women on this panel with different perspectives.”
She said when young people see somebody successful who looks the same, or has a similar upbringing to them, inspiration and action is more likely. This reason, she said, should leave women of all political parties and backgrounds inspired watching Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency.
“We’re talking about the possibility of a woman being the first to serve as president of the United States. Young girls will see her and say, ‘There’s no reason why I can’t do that,’” Jeter-Bennett said. “Anyone can appreciate her journey, regardless of political views.”
Having discussions like this is important to Smooth and Jeter-Bennett, because they see the youth vote as something that could potentially sway the election. Specifically for women, Smooth said, it is important for them to realize that their voice and their roles do have an effect.
“This idea of a rising American woman in the electorate has long-range implications for local politics, for state politics, for the midterm elections,” Smooth said. “If we get women voters mobilized and thinking of themselves as change agents, then we really can have a different type of conversation in this country.”
The event is funded by the history and political science departments, the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, WGSS department, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the Multicultural Center.
Undergraduate Student Government also helped fund the event, giving $1,000.
“It’s critical for USG to be supporting all groups on campus,” said Danielle Di Scala, vice-president of USG and a fourth-year in political science. “Any time we have this opportunity we are more than happy to support an event like this.”
Di Scala said that it is particularly important for college women to vote because women make up about half of the American electorate.
“It’s critical for college women to get involved in this election when we have the power to make change and influence the result, so it’s critical that we use our voice by voting,” she said.
Evelyn Kennedy, a third-year in political science and director of governing relations in USG, said the event could push different groups of women who are not knowledgeable on the issues to research them on their own, become more involved with the election, and possibly go out and vote.
“I would say that your vote always matters, but especially in an election where we have the opportunity to elect a woman as the leader of the free world, as well as advance specific issues on the ballot,” Kennedy said. “It’s an opportunity that you can’t pass up.”
Smooth said potential voters who are cynical about this election need to view it as their civic duty and responsibility to get out and vote, because their vote is projecting their future, and each vote is an investment in their future.
Jeter-Bennett said that when she votes, she does not vote for herself, but for her ancestors who were denied the right to vote, for the women unable to vote right now in America, and for those around the world who do not have the right given to them.
“You are not only speaking and casting your vote on your own behalf, but for those who couldn’t, for those who can’t, and for those who would do anything to vote,” Jeter-Bennett said.
The event will be held on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Ohio Union Cartoon Room.