Welcome to Women in Politics: College Edition, where promising women leaders in student government on college and university campuses across the country will be featured on msnbc.com over the course of the year. Elena Saltzman has been nominated by Brown University as a leader making a difference not only through key issues on campus, but in bridging the gender gap in politics.
As part of msnbc’s “Women in Politics” series, these hand-selected women become part of a larger discussion of women candidates and women’s issues on a national level. “Women in Politics” features newsmaker interviews, profiles, photos, and deep dives into the key conversations, including a series on "Women Leaders Bridging Tech and Politics in 2016."
From the Ivy Leagues to the Big Ten to liberal arts colleges and beyond, young women are making a difference across the country – meet them here!
School: Brown University
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Concentration: Political Science
Role in student government, organizations: Undergraduate Council of Students, Chief of Staff; Brown Students for Hillary, Co-President
Dream job: White House Chief of Staff
Class year: 2016
What women's issues are you most passionate about addressing both on campus and nationally?
I'm a firm believer that what we think of as "women's issues" should be everyone's issues, not pushed to the side as only relevant to women. On campus, one issue impacting women that I'm passionate about is ensuring that we have diverse campus leadership, whether in student groups, in the classroom, or at an administrative level. All students, including women, are more likely to succeed if we have faculty and campus leaders who understand our backgrounds and our needs, and that can only happen if our leadership is as diverse as our student body.
Nationally, I also care deeply about electing more women and leaders from marginalized backgrounds, but the policy issue I'm most passionate about is protecting and expanding access to reproductive health care, especially for low-income women, who are disproportionately affected by laws that limit access to women's health care.
What keeps you motivated to work in student government?
I always feel motivated to be a part of student government when I hear from underclass(wo)men that they no longer face the same issues that most concerned me and my friends during our first year, due to actions we've taken in UCS during my four years at Brown. Knowing that I've had a tangible impact on younger students' Brown experiences makes me proud to be involved in student government and re-energizes me to keep working to make change on our campus.
Do you think it's important for college students to vote during elections? Why or why not?
It is imperative that college students vote, even while we're in school. Whether in student government elections or in local, state, and national elections: our votes matter, and there is too much at stake to stay home. The leaders we elect now will make decisions on our behalf that will impact the food we eat next week at the dining hall, the job market we'll enter after graduation, and even whether Social Security will still exist when we reach retirement. The easiest and most effective way to make our voices heard in these critical decisions is to go out and vote.
But part of the problem is that most states make voting pretty difficult for college students. Between confusing registration rules for dorm addresses, voter ID laws that don't consider student IDs "valid" identification, and onerous absentee voting processes, many students give up on voting because it is too hard. Given these obstacles, instead of simply chastising college students for not voting, we ought to make it easier for students to cast their ballots by implementing more pre-registration programs, online (or automatic!) voter registration, and online absentee ballot request systems.
Do you think someone can be feminist and not support Hillary Clinton at the same time? Why or why not?
Of course! Part of being a feminist means working to ensure that women have all the same opportunities that men do, and men have the freedom to vote for whomever they like without being asked that kind of question. That said, as an ardent Hillary supporter and a leader of Students for Hillary on my campus, I think there is no other candidate this year who has better plans to support women or has furthered the causes of feminism in this country more than Hillary Clinton.
Her proposed policies for equal pay, paid family leave, universal pre-k, repealing the Hyde Amendment, expanding sexual assault prevention programs, LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, and so much more show how committed she is to making this country a better place to live and work for women. This is especially true for women of color, who make even less on the dollar than white women in the workplace, and for low-income women, who deserve better access to affordable childcare and health care. There is so much work to do, and as a feminist, I'm so excited to have the chance to vote for her this year.
What show(s) are you currently or have recently been binge watching in your free time?
After finishing my sixth (or maybe seventh?) round of "The West Wing" last semester, I'm now working my way through "Mad Men"! It's very intense, but I love the way the show tries to bring the politics of the 1960s to life and weaves current events into its story lines. Its portrayal of working women is also a constant reminder of how far we've come since then and how much it matters that we keep fighting to create inclusive workplaces today.
Follow Elena on Twitter @ElenaSaltzman.
To nominate an exceptional undergraduate female leader in student government please email Anna Brand at Anna.Brand@nbcuni.com