We spoke with Rachel Zuckerman and Lauren Freeman, the first dual women ticket to win a race for Student Government President and Vice President at University of Iowa in decades, to see what they had to say about their experiences.
What is the hardest part of being the first female ticket to win the position of Student Body President and Vice President in a long time?
Rachel Zuckerman (President): The hardest part was definitely making the decision to run together in the first place. There was a lot of going back and forth but inevitably we decided it was the best decision. When looking at potential vice president candidates I made pro/con lists. The only con I had on Lauren’s list is that our ticket would be a two woman ticket. I think the initial move of choosing another woman to run with me was the biggest barrier I’ve had.
What has it been like to lead University of Iowa together?
Lauren Freeman (Vice President): For the most part, people have been receptive of us leading. When we were forming a ticket of people to run with us, a lot of the people who joined our ticket were actually very excited and responsive to the prospect of having two women as president and vice president. I would say that when we work with university administration, Rachel and I are often the only women in the room, which shows the importance of having women in student government so we can bring that perspective.
Were there any issues you were able to bring a new light to in your roles?
RZ: We have really pushed to get more women in positions of authority in student government and confronting the challenges that come with that. We’ve been open with our executive board about the day-to-day sexism we encounter in our jobs and our lives and have had diversity trainings to combat that.
LF: To celebrate the fact that two women are in the top positions of student government, we created Lean In Circle, modeled off of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. The circle brings together women from across campus and they’re able to find peer mentorship, learn about leadership and to support with each other. We thought that was a great way to give back and celebrate our kind of leadership while also raising awareness that that kind of support group is still needed because there are challenges women face that men simply don’t in positions like these.
Has the culture of your SG changed because of you having these conversations?
RZ: Before we ran, there were other women as SG president here, so we did have really wonderful role models to look up to. We were only unique in that we were willing to take the politically risky move of having two women on the ticket. We’ve had a culture of women leading this organization for a long time so if anything ,we’ve built on that.
LF: You can see this culture in the senate leadership over time, as well. There have definitely been women who have stepped up to the plate in leadership because of the culture our school has created over time where we all support each other in those endeavors.
RZ: We’ve really been able to develop a culture of encouraging one another to pursue new roles like with our senate committee chairs. People are really good at saying “Hey, I think you’d be a really good committee chair” or “You’ve done great work” and that helps people take the step to run. They also encourage each other throughout that process. Just like in national politics, women in student government need to be encouraged time and time again to put themselves out there and to go for leadership positions and that’s a culture we have been able to foster.
What’s been the biggest take away you’ve had?
RZ: Results matter more than anything. People will appreciate the work that you’ve done.
LF: Our positions give us a privilege to have a voice for students and talk to administrators and the person in that position has a lot of power so who gets elected into these positions really does matter. Encouraging women to run for student government in general is so important because if we don’t have the full spectrum of perspectives they get lost in these conversations with university administration.
RZ: I think it’s wonderful that we’re taking the steps to get women into positions of power but we also need to talk about how we get women of color and other marginalized groups into power as well because it’s not just about white cis women being in these positions. We’re making great progress but we need to continue pushing ourselves to bring people up with us.
LF: I was just thinking today that we haven’t had a person of color as president while I’ve been at University of Iowa, so we have a lot more work to do.
What advice would you give women considering running for SG this upcoming year?
RZ: Lauren and I always joke about the fact that men just wake up one day and say they want to be president and then they run and while it’s an outlandish attitude, I hope women can start to develop at least a little bit of that where we don’t have to second guess ourselves and question our qualifications. If you’re even considering a role in student government, you’re probably qualified and encouraging them to take that jump and make that commitment [is important] because the organization will be better if you add your voice to it.
LF: Just go for it, you don’t need to run for president the first time you join student government and I would advise you to not do that because there’s so much you can learn through the process of being a Senator or being a committee chair and learning leadership skills. Put yourself out there and be confident in your abilities, but also be okay with being vulnerable, learning new skills and make mistakes as you go.
RZ: I’d also say make sure you run for the right reasons and do it because you care about the issues. These jobs aren’t glamorous but when you’re passionate about creating change and you’re driven for the right reasons you’ll be able to leave a lasting legacy that’s beneficial to the entire student body.