Chelsea Clinton speaks on campus

Chelsea Clinton speaks on campus

Alongside a panel of four other inspiring women, Clinton led a discussion on female leadership.

Presidential campaign events are typically loud, large-scale, overwhelming and scripted. To juxtapose that image with a quieter, more intimate gathering would also change the sentiments surrounding the event.

Chelsea Clinton visited Wake Forest on Sept. 14 to lead a discussion on the role of women in leadership positions.

The event was held in the Green Room of Reynolda Hall, a bright and open yet smaller, more comfortable space. As her time to speak came closer, the emotions filling the room transitioned from calm anticipation to rising excitement.

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Sophomore Leeden Rukstalis was first in line for the event, enthusiastically rushing to Reynolda Hall after her first morning class.

“My entire family have been Clinton supporters since I can remember, so I grew up in an environment celebrating their family,” Rukstalis said. “I have really only ever seen Chelsea appear on stage alongside her family so I am looking forward to see her speak alone about the role of women in politics.”

Such an event sends a vital message to the audience of mostly young college women at the event.

According to the Center for American Progress, women now earn 60 percent of all undergraduate and master’s degrees; yet continue to be proportionately underrepresented in leadership roles. In the business sector, only 14.6 percent of executive officers are women, and likewise in politics, women only hold 18.5 percent of congressional seats.

Partisanship aside, the data shows that the need for women to fill leadership roles is a crucial message to share, and Chelsea Clinton was a fair representative to share it.

The event began with an introduction of the other female panelists speaking alongside Clinton.

The panel included Paige Metzer, the director of the Wake Forest Women’s Center, followed by Chizoba Ukairo, a senior and student activist, Denise Adams, a Winston-Salem councilwoman and Libba Evans, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur. 

After each panelist was given a chance to offer their opening statements, Clinton was given time to speak and to answer audience questions. Her persona was unexpectedly casual. She paired a friendly smile with a supportive Hillary Clinton campaign t-shirt.

She focused the majority of her speaking time on issues that are most important to her: minimum wage laws, early childhood education and affordable college debt as they respectively relate to women.

“College affordability is a women’s issue,” Clinton said. “In the same way that economics is a women’s issue, in the same way that childcare is a women’s and a family issue. All of these things are women’s issues, and I know that my mother is the only candidate running that truly understands that.”

With many references to her mother’s candidacy, as expected at a campaign event, Chelsea Clinton paired her personal experiences and opinions as a woman with Hillary Clinton’s policy statements.

Nonetheless, the panel continued to shift back to the idea of women’s roles in leadership. One audience member asked panel members if their gender had ever merited inferior treatment than their male counterparts.

“When I worked 38 years in manufacturing as a black woman, there was a glass ceiling in my face every single day,” Councilwoman Adams said. “Now as a woman politician, my gender is constantly used against me. All of us may be women, but we feel differently, we think differently, we love differently. You can’t be told ‘no’ because you’re a woman, you’re a female,  you’re weak.”

Such personal statements of female empowerment earned overwhelming audience respect; applause followed by hastened silence in anticipation of the next statement continuously cycled throughout the event. Among those partaking in the excitement was sophomore Mariam Syed.

“My favorite part of the entire event was hearing the councilwoman speak about her daily fight with glass ceilings,” Syed said. “It isn’t one overarching struggle, instead there is solidarity among women as we all struggle together each day.”

Closing the event, Clinton reflected on many issues plaguing North Carolina today.

In her statements she touched on minimum wage discrimination, discrimination against those with disabilities and the recent controversy over HB2. With these issues, she emphasized her platform to inspire all members to work towards furthered equality.

“I think that for many of us there is this belief that the barriers we do not encounter do not exist,” Clinton said. “It is a challenge for all of us to continue to open our hearts and our minds to feel equally disgusted by barriers yet still open to changing and overcoming them.”

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