July 19, 2019 | 87° F

Rutgers initiates nationally acclaimed course for women in politics


This Spring, the Center for American Women and Politics will host Ready to Run New Jersey to teach women campaign strategies and ways become active members in politics. The event was initiated at the University and has since gained national attention.

The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) is holding a two-day conference this spring to encourage women’s leadership and involvement in New Jersey politics.

This March, the center will host "Ready to Run New Jersey," a nonpartisan conference dedicated to helping elect women into public office. The Ready to Run campaign got its start at Rutgers and is now a nationwide program.

“Research has shown that women make government more transparent, more inclusive and more accessible," said Nisa Sheikh, the Ready to Run program coordinator. 

The goal of Ready to Run is not only to help teach women campaign strategies, but also to help them become more involved in public life as politically active citizens. The event is divided into two tracks, one for women who are planning on running for office, and one for women who just want to become more politically aware. 

The conference will be held in Trayes Hall at the Douglass Student Center on March 9-10. The program’s $150 price tag includes meals and supplies.

All Rutgers students are allowed to attend "Ready to Run New Jersey," and CAWP offers some students scholarships to cover the cost of the program.

“One of the core pieces of Rutgers University's mission is to foster public service in support of New Jersey's citizens and the issues of our state. Ready to Run very much builds on that goal by helping women in our state become public leaders. And many of our attendees are Rutgers' students or alums,” said Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for Women and Politics.

Presenters include Tara Dowdell of the Tara Dowdell Group, a marketing and communications consulting firm. Dowdell will present a plenary session on digital outreach for campaigning and advocacy. Nancy Bokskor, author of "Go Fish: How to Catch (and Keep) Contributors," will also be leading a session on campaign fundraising.

March 9 will feature a pre-conference diversity initiative for women of color who want to run for office or become more involved in politics. Its sessions will include "Elección Latina," for Latin- American women, "Run Sister Run," for Black women and "Rising Stars," for Asian-American women.

In the United States, 19.3 percent of the House of Representatives, 21 percent of the Senate and 24 percent of statewide elected officials are women, according to the Center for American Women and  Politics site. 

Women of color make up only 7.1 percent of Congress and 2.2 percent of statewide elected officials.

In New Jersey, the numbers are similar. New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th) is the state’s only female congressional representatives out of twelve, while the State Legislature has 37 female representatives out of 120. According to CAWP, this is the 12th highest proportion of female elected officials in the nation.

Last week’s election will not lead to an increase in the proportion of women in the State Legislature, according to a press release put out by CAWP on Nov 8. 

Lt. Governor-elect Sheila Oliver is currently the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office in New Jersey, and one of only 12 Black women to be elected to statewide office anywhere in the nation. 

Virginia also elected 28 women to its House of Delegates. Before the 2017 election, Virginia had the 38th highest proportion of women in elected office, but it will now jump to 22nd out of all 50 states. Most of the women elected ran as challengers and beat incumbent politicians, according to the press release. 

Sinzdak said this came as a surprise to CAWP.

“Virginia women ran in record numbers this year, and their victories are one big story of this election. Running as challengers, they defied conventional wisdom and predictions to score some surprising wins,” said CAWP Director Debbie Walsh in last Wednesday’s press release.

“There is this drive and energy that we hope to see grow,” Sheikh said.

In 2017, 325 people registered for Ready to Run, compared to 110 in 2016. Despite a low turnout due to bad weather, Sheikh said they had not seen that much interest in any of the 10 years that the program had been running.

“With the way that the political climate is changing, it’s important to show that Rutgers cares and wants to encourage more women to go into politics,” Sheikh said.

Jane Keller

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