(WITH VIDEO AND Q&A WITH ABIGAIL FRENCH, DIRECTOR OF THE WOMEN’S CENTER) – Jessica Grounds had an epiphany at eight years old that set the tone for the rest of her life.
While riding in the car on a typical day, Grounds’ grandmother said to her “you know that boys are the bread winners.” At that moment, Grounds refuted the argument and recognized that women have as much to contribute to the world as boys do.
On Wednesday, Murray State welcomed Grounds, co-founder of Running Start, to campus to give a speech about her experiences with politics and how students may become involved. The speech was interactive and began with some background information about her life.
Of the audience that attended “Elect Her,” respondents had worked on political campaigns as well including: Lyndon Johnson, Mitch McConnell, Nelson Rockefeller and Jimmy Carter.
After attending college and an internship in Washington D.C., Grounds realized there was a yearning in her mind to move across the country from San Diego, California, her home state, to Washington D.C.
Grounds turned these stressers into motivation, took a lot of risks, a piece of advice she would give to anyone wanting to run for a leadership position, and began researching. Instinctively, Grounds knew to be successful in her career searches she had to network.
“It’s often more about who you know than what you know,” Grounds said.
Grounds’ first attempt to connect with like-minded individuals was successful as she began to research a female candidate, who she found through a list-serv, who was running for congress at twenty-seven years old, just two years beyond the minimum age. It was at the fundraising event for this candidate that Grounds found a comforting group of individuals.
Grounds said research shows women have to be asked seven times before they will run for office.
Because of these barriers and research indicating younger candidates were not on the horizon at the moment, Grounds co-founded an organization called Running Start.
Founded in 2007, Running Start provides political experience for girls ages 14 to 28.
“What we see is girls start stepping back in their leaderships around college,” Grounds said. “We knew that girls were stepping back and we thought, we can catch them at high school.”
The two things Running Start implemented were introducing them to role models and teaching skills. These women role models that the girls were talking to had topics that the girls could relate to personally.
Through that pioneering work, Running Start has trained about 8,000 girls. Through their research, Running Start has found about 60 percent of the participants have obtained a new leadership role.
Another experience Grounds has participated in the political realm was going to Tajikistan to speak with girls and boys about why it matters that women are leaders. Grounds reflect on a day she was asked to visit a high school where girls were playing sports for the first time. It was during a game of badminton that Grounds had an unforgettable experience.
“This man is walking around the court and yelling things I could not understand,” Grounds said. “I looked to Andrea, my interpreter from the embassy, and asked what is he saying to them? And she said, ‘he is yelling Good job! You’re awesome, go do it!’”
Grounds said she took a step back and realized the man was looking at the girls and believing they are the future of their country. Grounds tied this example back into college students being important as well and she hopes that students make an impact at Murray State or wherever life takes students.
“I believe in you and I hope you’ll look to stand up and be a leader here in college and beyond,” Grounds said. “We need you.”
Story by Tiffany Whitfill, Staff writer
Q & A with Abigail French, director of the Women’s Center
Tiffany Whitfill, staff writer, sat down with Abigail French, director of the Women’s Center to discuss women in leadership and how to get involved here on campus.
TW: Why is it important that Murray State students listen to this lecture?
AF: This lecture is the first event in a series called “High Five” about women’s leadership and women getting involved in leadership roles. This particular event is about politics, Jessica Grounds, our speaker, is the co-director of Running Start, and she speaks about young women getting involved in politics, why that’s important, she speaks about women being under-represented in political leadership, so it’s really important for students to understand it’s important know getting involved now is as important as getting involved later.
TW: Are there any implications of a gender gap in Murray State’s employment or enrollment?
AF: Pretty typical that there are more women enrolled in programs however, then when you look at how many women go on to be in leadership roles in those career fields, so say 56 percent are women, leadership roles in fortune 500 companies that is only about 14 percent, there’s a big difference when you go from the education to what it looks like in the career field.
TW: How do students become leaders on our campus?
AF: First of all you’ve got to be informed on what opportunities a lot of people don’t know about like student government is or what they do, they don’t know about opportunities like RCC in the residential colleges they just aren’t aware that we have those opportunities or how to get involved if they do know about those opportunities, the first step is helping students be aware which is why we have SGA and RCC will both be here tonight with applications and information but it is also important for people to understand that our leadership isn’t reflective, our leadership is supposed to speak for the whole population, and when your leadership only reflects a single part of the population, in most cases the “white man” then you’re not having effective leadership.
TW: What is your experience with getting into the director’s position?
AF: I came in at a time when there were a lot of transitions going on in Student Affairs. My first year as a director here was also the first year of about four other directors in Student Affairs and they were all actually women, so it was kind of an interesting transition period where we really saw a lot of women stepping into those roles. I have been here three years, we have had our first female VP, Jackie Dudley, we have seen Renee Fister be promoted to the assistant to the President which is a huge position on this campus.