The second week of January of 2020, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. for the Women in Public Policy seminar with 55 outstanding college women.
As a student at the University of North Dakota, the opportunity to travel outside of the cold state is a blessing. It makes it an even greater opportunity if it is one that corresponds with your interests.
I learned about the Women in Public Policy seminar through my Criminal Justice professor, Dr. Wendelin Hume. She helped a student in the past apply for a seminar through PLEN and they had a great experience. Additionally, a Law professor as my school used to work in DC and has heard great things about PLEN.
I knew I was interested in pursuing a political position later in the future as multiple of my peers kept encouraging me and asking if I would. I also know that my research interests align with public policy and how to effectively implement bills or policies and hopefully make a change somewhere in the Criminal Justice system to better assist Native Americans. I thought going to DC would be the best place to start considering the complicated history with DC that numerous Sovereign Nations in America have. I felt I needed this seminar to expand my leadership skills and network with a different environment.
This seminar taught me more than I can wrap my head around. I can confidently say that I know how to strongly and accurately advocate on topics I feel are important to me thanks to PLEN. During this week, we learned from brilliant women who were directors, presidents, lawyers, legislative assistance, etc. What they all share is that they did not have a direct path to get to the position they were serving. This gave me comfort because those who I now look up to had no easy way in and no straight path. Through their complicated journey, they gained a wide range of experiences through several different positions they grew to love or did not grow to love.
There were workshops like Running Start that taught us how to run for office and ONE Campaign that taught us how to strongly advocate and lobby a topic that is important. PLEN required us to reach out to a Representative office of our college or home state and advocate on an issue that is important to us.
These workshops such as ONE Campaign and Running Start help prepared me for my meeting with Ben Bergstrom, a Legislative Assistant for the United States Senator from North Dakota, Kevin Cramer, to advocate for Indigenous Communities in North Dakota. This meeting successfully went well and exceeded my expectations. I gained information on the topic I advocated for and also learned a valuable lesson: just because a bill is implemented does not mean it is being put into action, so thanks for the heads-up, Senator Bergstrom!
I built networking experiences through this meeting that I will never forget. The experience gave me a different insight of what kind of future career I want. As much as I want to be apart of implementing bills, I gained insight that not all bills are enforced and put into action.
Thanks to PLEN, I am rethinking about my future goals in a positive way and will not stress heavily where my path takes me but to rather learn from every opportunity. Overall, this experience gave me an insight of what it looks like to be a woman in DC serving a leadership position in public policy and political positions. I also learned how to support a woman in a political leadership position through research which seem much more suiting to me.
These women showed me just how strong we can be and how to effectively use our voice.
They taught us how to work together and partner with everyone we encounter.
The PLEN organization and the seminar exceeded my expectations. As a Native American woman, I felt included and did not feel a disconnect from the majority. I feel that the women who lead PLEN, along with the speakers, made every single woman feel a part of the experience and belonged. I felt safe with these women and had opportunities to voice my concerns or questions on topics I feel strongly about.
I would like to thank PLEN, Ronald McNair program, Professor Julia Ernst at UND Law School, and the Grand Fork’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for generously funding this opportunity.
Ashly Hanna is a junior undergraduate at the University of North Dakota and will graduate in May of 2021. She attended the 2020 Women in Public Policy seminar.