Samantha Runyon, president of the Class of 2021, was one of six students from women’s colleges across the country to participate in a town hall with Congresswoman Karen Bass, hosted by the Women’s College Coalition. Over 400 students and representatives from women’s colleges joined the powerful conversation on women’s leadership, gender equity and racial injustice.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to ask Rep. Bass two questions during the town hall,” said Samantha. Her first question centered on the impact of COVID-19 on campuses across the country: “The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected students across the country. How has your education prepared you for these unprecedented times?”
Rep. Bass explained that she began her career in the medical field during the beginning of the AIDS pandemic and related the fear of the unknown to both cases.
Samantha’s second question addressed the stereotypes that women face in leadership positions: “Women in leadership roles have oftentimes been called abrasive, or they feel they must act masculine to fit the image of a leader, though you have been noted to ‘not be someone who bristles.’ How have you been able to find your voice as a leader and stand your ground while battling these stereotypes of abrasiveness and masculinity?”
Rep. Bass replied and “gave a great piece of advice that I will be able to take into my daily life,” said Samantha. “She said, ‘Stay focused on your cause and keep your ego in check. In order to get something done, you have to put your goal at the forefront of your mind. Make people’s lives better by putting your own feelings aside.’”
When asked if she had seen or experienced any of the stereotypes that Rep. Bass mentioned relating to men and women in leadership roles, Samantha said, “I have absolutely seen the different stereotypes between men and women play out, especially in situations where men and women are in the same leadership position. Whether in a workplace environment, in an educational setting or in the political sphere, women are often called abrasive when they are using the same leadership techniques as men. If women react with emotion to a situation, they are called emotional and weak, but men in the same situation are called passionate.”
Samantha is an active Sweet Briar community member and leader on campus. She said her leadership style is “inclusive of all ideas and opinions, and I hope my peers would describe it the same way.”
“My goal for the Class of 2021 this year is to facilitate communication between my peers in an effort to include everyone in the planning of events and activities,” Samantha said. “I have learned that by facilitating proper communication, you can create an environment for yourself and your team that allows for growth. You cannot grow if you do not allow criticism, and you have to open yourself up to the possibility of someone disagreeing with you.”
The town hall included other thoughtful questions from students centered around policies on dreamers, criminal justice and racial discrimination. Others asked for advice for student leaders, who Rep. Bass referred to as “the future leaders of America.”
Samantha said one of her biggest takeaways from the event was to “be purposeful in your actions and make sure your actions are going to positively impact your cause. By doing this, you are able to gain more control over your situation and make the changes that will benefit your organization.”