Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “If you're going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.” For most of my life, I attempted impacting positive change exclusively through community service. Whether it was collecting donations for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with my family or collecting signatures for causes I believed in as a high school student, community engagement has always been integral to my values and goals. That is why, when I enrolled at the historically-female Chatham University, I assumed majoring in Social Work and going on to work in a government agency or nonprofit was my life path. While I absolutely appreciate that field the people I’ve met within it, I quickly realized there was minimal interaction with those “who hold the levers”.
Issues like divested neighborhoods, ill-conceived legislation, and gender inequity often show themselves in the areas that I attempted to improve through community service, and that most social workers observe in individual cases. While I’d like to think I improved individual people’s or neighborhood’s lives, ultimately laws and systems control most of their day-to-day experiences. Because I prefer macro-social work and was deeply involved in elections and local government, I had been considering additionally majoring in Political Science and pursuing law school after undergraduate school. After attending PLEN’s Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar, my decision has only solidified.
PLEN’s program came to my attention through the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, a nonprofit I work at as the Communications Assistant. The goal is to encourage women to run for elected office by providing them with bipartisan education and training. I was designing flyers and graphics advertising PLEN’s various seminars, when I learned about the mission, schedule, and location of the Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar. It became obvious that I should apply, and my decision was made even clearer when both the Center and my university provided funding to support the trip. PLEN’s sole focus is preparing college women for leadership in the public policy world, and arena that would significantly benefit from greater gender representation.
All of the participants had the commonalities of passion in creating change and interest in law, but our backgrounds and motivations differed greatly. It was a replenishing experience to interact with young women who supported, educated, and learned from each other. I was constantly impressed with the smarts, wits, and generosity every young woman showed. Even when we were in competition mode, attempting to further our assigned advocacy group’s agenda on a piece of hypothetical legislation on criminal justice reform, everyone was thoughtful and willing to compromise.
Every panel was more informative and interesting than the last. Topics such as free speech, networking, cyber security, and work-life balance were addressed by panelists representing a variety of policy perspectives and careers in the legal field. I only wish there was more time to ask questions and chat with the panelists between activities, because their perspectives on the role of women in the law was one that is not often heard. My favorite memory from this opportunity was visiting National Mall monuments and exploring D.C. with the young women I became fast friends with through the conference.
I’m so grateful for the experience to meet such amazing women-- every single PLEN participant and panelist was helpful, kind, and honest. There was a sense of community at PLEN unlike any conference I’ve attended. Business cards and advice was exchanged freely, panelists spoke openly about their experiences of both victory and adversity. This type of environment encouraged us to do the same, and I’m confident the connections and friendships I’ve made through PLEN will continue for years to come.
After reflecting on everything that I saw and learned in the three opportunity-packed days I spent at PLEN, I can say that there was a common theme throughout. Almost every woman I spoke with or listened to discussed the importance of having confidence in yourself and accepting uncertainty. Many people begin in a position they feel overwhelmed or under-qualified for, but every panelist was an extremely successful woman who at some point felt lost. Several pointed out that this is a gendered issue, as many women second guess their qualifications for even considering a job or position an equally (and even sometimes less) qualified man will jump into. This struggle is also a strength, since because women are unfortunately held to a higher standard they tend to work harder and have higher expectations than men.
My path has been anything but linear, yet I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. After attending PLEN’s Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy program, I am confident that pursuing a career in the legal field is the best way to both advocate for societal advancements and have a fulfilling and promising vocation. Attending the seminar and interacting with so many powerful and inspiring women has given me the confidence to say I don’t just want to be someone who interact with those holding the levers, I want to someday help control the course of society, and move it even further towards true equity and justice.
Jenna McGreevy attended the Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar with a scholarship sponsored by the PLEN Scholarship Fund. She is planning to graduate from Chatham University in 2019.