One of my favorite things about NYU Law is how many panels and events there are with fantastic speakers. When I was a 1L, I probably went to three or four events a week! Now that I’m a 3L and life has gotten a bit in the way, I don’t take as much advantage of the offerings, and I really regret it most times. So when I heard that some of my close friends had organized a panel on women in politics, and saw that Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and former DNC chairperson; Nily Rozic , New York State assemblywoman; Susannah Wellford, president and founder of Running Start; and Mini Timmaraju, women’s outreach director of Hillary for America, were going to be there, with moderation by Professor Sally Katzen, I had to go!
I have really gotten interested in women’s rights since coming to NYU. When I was in theater in DC, we talked a lot about diversity in the sense of race and ethnicity. I hadn’t really thought about that much before I got to my theater, so I really enjoyed grappling with those ideas, and discussing the role of theater and art in racial justice and equality. I had a similar experience when coming to the Law School, but in terms of gender equality. It’s often said that law schools tend to have many more male professors than female, and the trend continues in law firms. NYU gives this issue a lot of focus and attention. I know that our administration is very engaged with making sure female students have a positive and productive education, and most of the professors are cognizant of implicit biases and systematic trends that can place women at a disadvantage. I feel that I am in a bit of a privileged position: I am a woman, so I can engage in these conversations with that background and knowledge, but I also feel that some of the systems that can disadvantage women in general (such as cold calling) are actually well suited to my personality and learning style. So I try to participate in conversations about women in the law and in politics as much as possible, because I think it’s beneficial for me but also for the field of law as a whole to have as much equality as possible.
The panel was a great opportunity for me to listen to people who have made a career out of thinking about these issues. Most of the focus was on how to get women to participate in politics from a young age, and how to increase their power once they get there. It was interesting to hear the divergent perspectives of Howard Dean, a career politician, and Susannah Wellford, someone who has spent most of her career trying to get women into politics. They agreed on most things, and had a lively conversation on the use of quotas for women in other countries and whether they could and should be implemented in the US. But it was also funny because, at the end, Governor Dean hinted that real change comes from activism, whereas Ms. Wellford was adamant that political office is the key! Really, though, they were in agreement; the conversation at that point was more about whether progress on specific issues, such as immigration reform, was better accomplished through holding political office or through other forms of legal activism. I’m sure they both would agree that for the sake of gender equality, having women in political office is crucial.
There was also a discussion about balancing work and career. This part of the panel was very thought provoking for me. I wonder whether women keep being asked these questions because these issues are still more important to women than men today, or whether there’s just a historic practice of focusing on it more for women. It’s troubling to me, because I actually had the thought when I first sat down to listen to the panel, but then I was almost upset when Professor Katzen brought it up, because I figured, “Well, one way to stop having this be a focus for women and not men is to stop asking the women!” But each of the panelists really had something thoughtful to say, whether it was that having ambition in one’s personal life is equally as important as having it in the career setting (Ms. Wellford), that family life is equally important for men (Governor Dean), that it can be really hard to balance and may not be possible at every stage of life (Ms. Timmaraju), or that it’s an essential component of being a good politician (Ms. Rozic). And the question sparked conversation in the audience. Like everything else in law school, I find myself thinking deeply about these issues and feeling very fortunate to have peers and leaders to engage with and broaden my perspective.
We could have continued talking into the night, I’m sure, but the panel ended with a lovely wine and cheese reception, with great views of the city. So even if women’s equality isn’t an issue you’re passionate about, everyone can get down with some wine and cheese! (And certainly there will be a panel about what you’re into; if not, you can make it happen!)