June 26, 2018
By Emily D’Aulaire
The Redding League of Women Voters held a panel discussion about women in politics at the league’s annual lunch on June 1.
“Women are entering politics in increasing numbers,” said Kim O’Rielly, league president. “We wanted to hear from some of them to learn what it is that motivates women to throw their hats into today’s political arena.”
Leading off the discussion was panelist Mackenzie Wenzel, a senior at Joel Barlow High School where she has been president of the Student Council for the past three years.
Wenzel told the group that she got involved in student government because she wanted to give back to the Barlow community. “I want students to be thinking about what they believe, to be voicing their opinion on what they are passionate about,” she said. “Practicing in the safe environment of their high school will promote their political engagement after they leave Barlow.”
Wenzel organized a student forum that meets once a month to discuss ways to change or improve the climate at Barlow, views that are later shared with the administration.
Panelist Valerie Horsley, award winning biology professor at Yale University, said she was propelled into politics by a desire to give women a voice. “I remember my first faculty meeting at Yale,” she recalled. “I looked around the room and thought, where are the women?”
She noted that 51% of Connecticut’s population is female yet only 20% of its State senators are women. “I believe change has to happen through our state government system,” she said. “I knew I had to step out of the comfort zone of my lab if I wanted women’s voices to be heard.” Toward this goal, Horsley is running for State Senate in the November 2018 election.
Politics aren’t new to Jayme Stevenson who has served as first selectman for the Town of Darien since 2011. Like Wenzel, Stevenson believes the best way to give back to her community is to serve it. “Now I’m ready to take what I’ve learned in my years of local public service to a new level,” she told the group.
In the August primary, Stevenson’s name will appear on the ballot for Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut.
During the Q&A that followed the individual presentations, the panelists were asked their views on the importance of mentors for career advancement. With a nod and a “yea, mom” to her mother in the audience, Wenzel said she had many mentors. “As I watch more and more women entering the playing field, I take something from each of them,” she said.
“To have success you find mentors who help you,” said Horsley. “If someone is negative, or can’t help you, move on and find someone who can.
Stevenson said it’s important for her to be a mentor. “I want to be a role model for my daughters,” she said. “I want them to be inspired by the work I do.”
O’Rielly asked Wenzell what it was about the Parkland shooting that propelled her and her peers to action. “Why now?” she asked.
Wenzel said she was in 7th grade when the Sandy Hook shooting took place and was, “totally devastated.”
“When I heard about the Parkland students I waited for the same reaction that I’d had with Sandy Hook. When it didn’t come I worried that we were getting numb. I knew we couldn’t let that happen,” she said.
On March 14, one month after the Parkland disaster, Wenzel worked with other students organizing a walkout at Joel Barlow. “One-third of the student body walked out,” she said. “The event focused our thoughts on what we can do to prevent something like that from happening again.”
Editor’s note: The spelling of Jayme Stevenson’s name has been corrected, and it has been noted that she is running for Lt. Governor in the August primary.