Inside USD

Politics, Public Policy Initiative Helps Female Students Thrive

Monday, October 29, 2012

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

The future belongs to University of San Diego seniors Sophia Carrillo and Cynthia Villacis and junior Shannon Schumacher. They’re three female college student leaders committed to research, active involvement in women’s issues and human rights, and they’ve taken steps to strengthen their professional development and connect with other women leaders, on and off campus.

They’re prime examples of the USD Women in Politics and Public Policy (WIPPP) initiative, an idea that Carrillo and 2012 alumna Cathy Wineinger developed at the 2010 California Democratic Convention women’s caucus in Sacramento.

“People may say that young people don’t care, but a lot of young women really do care, this election, in particular,” Carrillo said. “The last election had two formidable female candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin and women’s issues were talked about so much more. In this election, the issues were just talked about in the second presidential debate.”

Tonight (Oct. 29), WIPPP, the USD Women’s Center and the Political Science and History departments are sponsoring “Our Decision: Women and the Election 2012,” at 6 p.m. in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall’s Warren Auditorium. Political Science and International Relations Professor and Associate Dean Noelle Norton will moderate a USD faculty panel of Lori Watson (Professor of Philosophy, Director Women’s and Gender Studies) and Political Science Professors Virginia Lewis and Karen Shelby as they discuss the history of women in elections, the current election and how critical the women’s vote will be on Nov 6.

Carrillo, a political science and sociology double major and minor in peace and justice studies, said the event shows the value of the WIPPP initiative.

“The reason it’s been self-sustaining is because we have such great women — co-founders, students, faculty and alumni who’ve joined our executive council — who are committed to it,” she said. “It’s a really good group and they see it pertaining not only to their personal life, but also their professional life.”

Carrillo is certainly one of them. Her experiences at USD and beyond demonstrate her desire to lead. She’s been a sociology tutor, volunteered at a local juvenile detention center, was Associated Students’ chief of staff, a Model United Nations participant and an intern for the Trans-Border Institute and its Justice in Mexico project. Carrillo, who wants to attend law school and aspires to be an attorney general, interned last spring with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.  She’s been involved with a nonprofit, The San Diego Foundation, on its strategic planning initiative examining San Diego’s next century. Leadership is her passion.

“When I was in D.C., I spent part of my time in the Department of Justice and part on Capitol Hill,” she said. “It saddened me to not see the presence of many women leaders. We talk in our political science class that there’s only 16 percent of female representation in Congress, but when you sit in the balcony and see it in session, you really see what that 16 percent is. It’s a cluster. … It shows you there’s a lot that needs to be done. But there’s a lot to be passionate about. To know that it can be changed is what I’m looking forward to.”

One way is to start local. The WIPPP initiative brings together female students across many USD academic disciplines and the campus provides access to resources including faculty and staff, the Women PeaceMakers Program, Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Women’s Center. The university’s leadership has women in top administrative roles, including President Mary E. Lyons, Executive Vice President and Provost Julie Sullivan and Student Affairs Vice President Carmen Vazquez. Half of the eight academic entities on campus are led by women.

It is, however, the determination of students that helps the WIPPP initiative thrive. “We really want to build a framework that’s sustainable for the other members,” Villacis said. “We want to build an ally network across campus; we have a great alumni network that we want to be sure remains in place and is accessible.”

Said Norton: “This is the kind of thing that has to come up organically from the students themselves. But one thing I do attribute (WIPPP’s) success to is the support of the Women’s Center and its director, Erin Lovette-Colyer, to support these women anyway they want. I think a combination of the Political Science and International Relations Department, its expertise, and the Women’s Center, which is a great place for women to talk about their ideas, has led to a great synergy.”

Villacis and Schumacher credit the Women’s Center for helping to launch their passion.

Villacis, a McNair Scholar, is a political science and government major and minors in business administration and marketing. She joined the Women’s Center her freshman year, got involved in its leadership council and her interest in political science followed. She’s president of USD’s political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha, following Wineinger’s lead. Villacis did research last summer Stanford University about partisan rhetoric and examined how women’s rhetorical strategy has led to a greater polarization in Congress. The more she researches, the more she’s interested in being part of the solution.

“My dream job would be as a senator because I’ve been able to study congressional behavior,” she said. “When I took a Congress class with Professor Norton, that’s when I knew I wanted to do research. It’s been such a dynamic process. I’ve really found a deeper appreciation for the obstacles that Congress members face.”

Schumacher is a history and international relations double major and Spanish minor. She’s active in the Women’s Center Leadership Council as its education representative. Her busy schedule involves being a resident assistant in USD’s Space, Place and Sound Living-Learning Community, co-president of the History Club and working in USD’s Sustainability Office. She’s assisting Norton on a research project about the role of international women’s rights in Congress. She said she’s interested in working for the State Department in a diplomacy role, perhaps tackling issues in Latin America, environmental policy or global women’s rights. The latter is especially close to her heart.

“Having a seat at the table brings a perspective that I believe only a woman can, just based on their life experiences and seeing things through a different lens than men,” Schumacher said. “Research shows how important it is to have women represented politically as a legislator and as advocates for other women. It has to do with the systems and policies in place that significantly impair women’s opportunities to succeed, whether that’s health care, equal pay for equal work, or family responsibilities that men often don’t have or don’t assume to have a role in.”

Erin Lovette-Colyer applauds the WIPPP initiative. She enjoys seeing its student leaders as a resource, especially for younger students who’ll vote for the first time on Nov. 6.

“Their passion and enthusiasm is what will capture and excite others to learn about the issues,” she said. “There are so many more levels than just the presidential one in this election. I enjoy talking with these women because they’re so informed. They’ve thought critically about what they’re talking about and it results in a richer dialogue. I know if I was a student who wasn’t active in politics I’d feel comfortable going to them and learning about the issues. These women aren’t only studying it, they’re living it.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Check out the WIPPP Facebook page and on Twitter @USDWIPPP

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