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Wanted: Women for student government

Jenna Johnson

Student government election season is in full swing, but as I read through campus newspaper coverage and browse candidate Facebook pages, I've noticed something -- an overwhelming majority of top candidates are guys. Why is that?

maggie_luttrell.jpgMaggie Luttrell is a graduate student at Iowa State University and a campaign warrior. As an undergraduate, she was the first female student elected to be a liaison to the Ames City Council and was the student body vice president for the 2008-9 school year. Maggie has three tips -- and lots of words of wisdom -- for women running for office:

So, ladies, let's talk. You are in the beginning stages of running for student government.

For some reason, I keep hearing "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor -- also known as the song in "Rocky" -- playing in my head when I think back to the days of campaign season. That song motivated me through some of the most difficult minutes, hours, days, weeks, months of my life.

But, you're here! You have committed to running for student government, or in other cases, you're watching on the sidelines to see who wins so you can gain appointments in your student government or other campus boards. Trust me, there's no shame in sitting on that political fence before you get committed.

However, for those of you running for office, be it individually or as a group on a ticket, campaigning is rough.

Obama, Clinton, McCain, Palin, Biden, Edwards, Huckabee, et. al, made it look easy. Money flowing in, supporters rallying on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, yard signs, stickers, buttons, you name it, it was out there.

Campaign season was easily one of the most difficult six weeks for me to get through. My fears centered on a lot of things, but at Iowa State University, two things scared me to no end: getting 1,500 signatures to be placed on the ballot and the debates.

Personally, I felt like I needed to know everything about everything, since I ran for student body vice president, and I was the only female running for an executive seat.
When I was out riding the bus system, loitering in the dining halls, walking in between classes, I was a walking billboard. Attempting to approach a campus of 28,000 and get only 1,500 signatures completely intimidated me.

Fortunately, and as Tip #1, I had a lot of people committed to making sure my running mate and I won the race. The best asset you can have is a large campaign committee that can help you get signatures, advertise, talk to student groups and organizations, chalk the sidewalk and distribute flyers, buttons, whatever.

Currently, my roommate is running for president of the student body, and this is a problem her campaign is facing.

Tip #2, if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all. In terms of debating and "us vs. them" tactics in campaigns, it is very easy for candidates and those affiliated with them to say one wrong thing and then spend the rest of the campaign trying to make up for that mistake.

Look at Sarah Palin and the Katie Couric interview disasters. Sometimes it is okay just to smile and nod, or ask for a clarification to buy some time.

Tip #3, honesty is the best policy. While it can be intimidating to actually go and talk to complete strangers, depending on the size of institution you're at, this is vital.

Students don't want to be politicked. They want other, real students with real ideas and an honest and genuine desire to fight for them at every level in the university and other affiliated boards and governments throughout the state and national government.

My campaign slogan was "Real Plans for Real Students" compared to "Two Men Who Do Work." You take your pick, who would you have voted for?

Keep it honest, keep it simple, and smile after all. Overall, have fun ladies!

The student government realm is still an old boy's club, campaigning is tough work, but if I can do it, you can do it. Even if you lose, you've gained so many new skills, perhaps new connections for other leadership positions, and your time back. But, if you win, the satisfaction of just that fact is incomparable to anything else.

Go, be vocal, be visible, be honest, smile, have fun and WIN!


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By Jenna Johnson  |  February 16, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Student Government  | Tags: Iowa State  
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