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. Alyssa Peterson has been nominated by Georgetown 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 a new series at msnbc, “Women of 2014,” these hand-selected women become part of a larger discussion of women candidates and women’s issues on a national level. “Women of 2014” is a home for all women in politics – notably those in some of the year’s most pivotal races – with newsmaker interviews, profiles, photos, a Twitter trail following more than 35 candidates, and deep dives into the key conversations.
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!
Name: Alyssa Peterson
School: Georgetown University
Hometown: Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Concentration: Government and Women and Gender Studies
Dream job: White House Chief of Staff
Class year: 2014
What is your biggest challenge as a leader on campus?
I primarily work in the anti-sexual assault and domestic violence field. As a campus leader, I have faced the challenge of tackling these complex issues that are hardly confined to college campuses, specifically sexual assault. Men and gender nonconforming individuals are also survivors of this violence. At times, the challenge seems so immense and it is hard to know where to begin. It has been a struggle to not feel disillusioned by the slow movement of universities on this issue.
I have chosen to push back against this violence at all levels. On a local level, I personally volunteer as a domestic violence advocate and as a Sexual Assault Peer Educator. I also am working with a group of students and rape crisis advocates in order to pass increased protections for survivors of sexual assault in DC. On a national level, I organized a group of DC students to lobby Republicans in Congress to pass the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. I recently completed a White House internship in the Office of Violence Against Women. I think the key to activism is knowing when to spend your time and resources, while at the same time acknowledging that you cannot fight these battles alone.
Which female leaders do you draw inspiration from?
I admire Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's ability to utilize the law as a tool to advance the rights of all women. Largely due to her efforts as an attorney, women are protected as a class under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As a member of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg has advanced women’s self-determination by supporting a woman’s right to an abortion and right to attend previously all-male universities. It’s very obvious from state legislatures’ efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights and rape victim-blaming rhetoric from politicians that women are nowhere near equality. I hope to follow in Justice Ginsburg’s footsteps and become an attorney in order to support the expansion of women’s civil rights.
What comes to mind first when you think about important moments in history?
For me personally, the passage of the Affordable Care Act has been one of the most important moments in our history. We are now a country that doesn’t deny coverage to people because they have a pre-existing condition. We are now a country that believes that becoming sick should not make you bankrupt. The law finally puts emphasis on cost-saving prevention rather than on managing or treating disease. Its implications for women’s health are enormous because it covers preventative care as well as potentially lifesaving screenings for intimate partner violence. I no longer have to fear that my gender is a pre-existing condition or that the clients I work with at the domestic violence non-profit will be denied coverage due to abuse.
What do you think should be President Obama’s No. 1 priority?
I believe President Obama should continue his focus on raising the minimum wage because the current minimum wage is no longer a living wage. Policies represent choices. When we refuse to raise the minimum wage, we choose to block millions of hardworking Americans from joining the middle class. This undermines our economy because fewer people are able to afford the goods and services this country produces. The arguments against raising the minimum wage are weakened by research that has shown that localities with higher minimum wages have not lost jobs.
In my experience as a domestic violence advocate, many of the women I work with are low-income. Many cannot leave abusive relationships because of these financial difficulties. Raising the minimum wage could help many survivors obtain economic security. For that reason alone, the president should continue to push for an increase in the minimum wage.
What's your go-to karaoke song?
Definitely “Like a Prayer” by Madonna. I’m obsessed.
To nominate an exceptional undergraduate female leader in student government please email Anna Brand at Anna.Brand@nbcuni.com