4Qs: Electing Women On Campus, with Sarah Hilton

A former student body president could be elected the first female President of the United States this fall. While Hillary Clinton navigates presidential politics this cycle, many student body presidents are prioritizing efforts to build more inclusive organizations. Elect Her is a program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office.

Sarah Hilton

Student Body President

Institution: Wheaton College (MA)

Major: History and Public Policy Studies

Graduation Year: 2016

Student Population: 1,600

How did you learn about the Elect Her training? What was the process of bringing them to campus?

I had the opportunity to go to a conference during my sophomore year, the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL), which focuses on wome’s empowerment in [higher] education. Through that conference I had met a few women that had been through Elect Her training in the past, and I thought it was a really incredible and exciting thing to bring women’s empowerment to the student level.

To get our event off the ground, we put together a group of women to form the student host committee. We invited alumni as well, to connect students with graduates and offer an opportunity to talk about why student government is important, and what opportunities open up for you after graduation. It was cool to see how all this connected to the Wheaton education experience, how these women used gender barriers to catapult their careers.

Was this part of an effort for greater inclusion on campus?

We were able to utilize some funds from an on-campus women’s empowerment group, but this was more of a personal initiative. Wheaton was originally a women’s college, and only went co-ed in the late ’80s. Before that, obviously,all the student leaders were women; but after co-education, there was a long stretch where every student body president was a man. I’m actually one of only three women to be elected since co-education. So that served as a real inspiration for bringing Elect Her to campus. Plus, I was raised with three sisters, and my mom works at a women’s organization, so this is something that I’ve always cared about. I’ve always felt strongly about bringing in strong women to show how women can make a difference through student government.

What were the results? Have you seen an increase in women running for positions in student government?

We saw the highst voter turnout ever in these past spring elections, as well as the highest amount of competetive elections this year, and the highest amount of open positions filled. We had a very competetive presidential election in the spring, and the woman who won really used what she learned in Elect Herto her advantage. They teach that it is ok to campaign, to show that you are qualified for the job and can do it better than someone else. She took a lot of strength from that training and the solidarity in the room.

What advice do you have for other student leaders looking to replicate your success?

  • Collaborate with others. There are a huge number of resources available to students working on this issue. Rely on the strength and experience and the knowledge of others. This was a humbling experience for me, Igot to see how much there is left to learn, and I was encouraged by all that’s been done.
  • Emphasize community. Politics is a competition, yes, but there is a bigger community and a bigger picture, and you have to keep thatin mind. At the end of the day, it’s about the cause and sisterhood.
  • Bring Elect Her to your campus. Elect Her is a one-day, 4.5-hour training session that brings together campus administrators, students, and local AAUW members in partnership with with AAUW and Running Start staff to plan the trainings each year. To learn more about the organization and to set up a workshop, visit their website.

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