On Wednesday, September 26, at 6 p.m., SIUE’s Women’s Studies program hosted a panel with members of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership (IWIL) in Peck Hall.
The guest lecturer was the Hon. Barbara Brown, who is the Randolph County Circuit Clerk. The panelists at the event were Bonnie Ettinger, Director of IWIL; Kristen Novacich, Madison County Board (District 20); Pam Monetti, current IWIL delegate and Co-President of Illinois Democratic Women; and Debbi von Nida, Supervisory Investigator Madison County Government.
The IWIL panel discussion was the third event in the Women’s Studies series entitled Women and the Political Environment. The series began on September 5 with a screening of Iron Jawed Angels, a film about suffrage in the 1920s, and a discussion led by Educational Leadership Professor Dr. Jennifer Logue.
The second event was a screening of the documentary Running in High Heels on September 19 with discussion again led by Logue. The documentary is about the struggles of women who are running for office.
Seltzer began the series with the intent of informing women of gender issues that are often prominent in politics but not emphasized as much as they should be.
“Leading up to the election, we really wanted to focus on these issues that sometimes become invisible in our debate over the issues themselves [and] how it happens that some people are getting to talk about these things rather than others,” says Seltzer.
While the first two events were intended to enlighten students on different issues in history and in society at large, the IWIL panel was intended to provide perspectives from women who are currently working in politics in the state of Illinois and around the SIUE community.
IWIL is a non-profit organization that offers training and support to Illinois women who want to work in government and politics. The founding members of the Board of the Directors, including Brown, began the organization because they felt that more women needed to work in politics.
The organization has a formal training program for Democratic women who want to serve in any capacity of public office. The program trains women on how to raise funds, how to speak with the media, and how to interpret polls, among other skills. As of 2009, 87 women have been trained through IWIL’s program.
Wednesday’s event began with a lecture from Brown and then insight from the panelists regarding their own personal experiences with working in public office. Seltzer believes that the stories from the panelists piqued students’ interest.
“There were students who were really engaged particularly in those personal narratives that seemed to resonate with those students,” she says. “A few students were asking really specific questions about how they could get involved in the process, and I think that that really delighted the speakers.”
SIUE junior Chelsie Abbett attended the event on the 26th, and she indeed felt inspired by the panelists’ sharing of their experiences.
“I really enjoyed how each woman was very encouraging,” Abbett reflects, “and I remember Debbie Von Nida, Madison County supervisory investigator and SIUE alumna…said, ‘You may think that what you have to say is not important, but it is!’”
A Psychology major with a Women’s Studies minor, Abbett’s career plan does not involve running for office, but she says that “being a political leader has always been…very intriguing to me.”
Abbett was additionally excited to attend the event so that she could “hear and see women that have been successful in an area dominated by men.” After the event, she felt that she learned “how important representation really is.”
“Barb Brown…said, ‘Women only make up 17 percent of congress,’” Abbett recalls. “This got me thinking because the idea of democracy is to make sure every person’s voice is heard.”
“It’s very important to have someone representing women who go through similar experiences and is engaged in women’s issues,” she continues. “I’m not saying a man could not do this, but it is very important to have both perspectives (men and women) on the table when major issues such as healthcare are being passed.”
Surely, Abbett is just one of the SIUE women who gained additional, important insight about this gender issues in politics thanks to IWIL and the women panelists on that Wednesday evening.