Women in Politics: College Edition -- St. John's University

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. Donya Nasser has been nominated by St. John's 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.

Name: Donya Nasser

School: St. John's University

Hometown: Orlando, Florida

Major/Concentration: Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies

Leadership roles on campus: College Democrats (President of the College Democrats of New York), American Association of University Women (Youth Representative to the United Nations), National Organization for Women, New York State (Young Feminist Task Force Chair)

Dream job: First Iranian-American Woman U.S. Senator

Class Year: Senior


What is your biggest challenge as a leader on campus?

As a woman, a minority and also a youth, I face challenges on campus that many might not. Often I am viewed and considered as too outspoken, too ambitious, too much of a “go-getter.” I am criticized for being the only person in the room to bring up controversial issues such as racism and classism and pointing out the nuances of sexism. It’s difficult for people to listen to a young woman of color who is determined to reveal the flaws in our current system and the problems we can no longer ignore. It has been hard to garner respect from older, more experienced leaders in the field because I am still seen as just the young leader who has to wait her turn. I will never stop having the courage to speak up for what must be spoken for, for giving a voice to the muted, and for being the only different face at the table.  

Which female leaders do you draw inspiration from?  

One of the most difficult things to ask a self-proclaimed feminist is to name an inspirational female figure. I could list dozens of women, but two that stand out immediately are U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Human Rights Activist Shirin Ebadi. These women have actively sought out equal rights for all individuals, no matter their gender, age, or economic status. As a 2014 Glamour Magazine Top 10 College Woman, I had the opportunity to have a mentoring session with Senator Warren and learn about her path to politics and the obstacles I might face. She spoke of her family’s modest means, but most importantly her mother’s strength and persistent efforts to keep the family strong and economically stable. Her mother’s story inspired her, just as my mother’s story inspires my own personal goals and ambitions. Mrs. Ebadi is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient known for her courage in fighting for democracy and women’s rights in Iran. These two figures together represent my interests in both politics and equal representation, but also advocating for women’s rights and gender equality.

What comes to mind first when you think about important moments in history?

There have been many moments in history that have changed our country and the world for the better. I could mention the Civil Rights Movement, the Arab Spring and calls for Democracy in the Middle East, or the day First Lady Clinton proclaimed to the world from Beijing that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” Just a couple days ago America watched proudly as we elected the most number of women to Congress to date. This was a proud moment for a country working towards equal representation and justice to have a Congress that is beginning to more closely mirror the diversity of our nation. I can only imagine the moments in history that have yet to come but promise a day where justice truly shall be for all, no matter the gender, race, class, sexual orientation, or immigration status of the individual. Those are the historic moments we live and work for.

What do you think should be President Obama’s No. 1 priority?

President Obama has served an important role in the women’s rights movement in this country, and I think he should continue focusing on achieving gender equality and providing equal opportunities for all women. He established the Council on Women and Girls, a historic step forward in recognizing the significance of this civil rights issue and working towards effective solutions. It is important to continue this work and advocate on behalf of this issue because I truly believe gender inequality is the foundation to many problems we face today, such as educational gaps and gun violence. We must recognize sexism as an issue, but also the intersectionality of this institution with others like racism and classism. 

Would you vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 if she runs for president?

Of course. It is time that America, the hallmark for equality and democracy to the world, elects its first female President. There will never be a candidate who has done everything right, who has said all the right things, and who has made all the right decisions. It is unfair to be hypercritical towards Hillary, undoubtedly done so because she is a woman and held to higher standards. We can never elect the “perfect” president, but it’s time we elect our first woman. 

Follow Donya on Twitter @donyanasser and check out last week’s female leader at Howard University!

You can see all student leaders featured here

To nominate an exceptional undergraduate female leader in student government please email Anna Brand at Anna.Brand@nbcuni.com