Nearly 300 Camas High students packed into their school library during their lunch periods Tuesday, Oct. 2, to hear Democratic Congressional candidate and Washington State University, Vancouver political science professor Dr. Carolyn Long talk about her recent leap into politics, what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field and how young people can become more involved in local, state and federal politics.
“I’m a political scientist,” Long, who has taught and studied politics for more than 20 years, told the crowd after a student asked her what led to her current campaign to win incumbent Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s 3rd District seat in Congress. “I like politics, and to see our institutions starting to fray was alarming to me. … People weren’t talking to one another, they were talking past one another, if they were talking at all. And that was happening not just at a national or state level, it was happening locally.”
Long said the Clark County political divide happening on the Clark County Council and Vancouver City Council about four years ago — over mostly transportation issues — made her realize “our system is breaking,” but said she didn’t decide to run for the U.S. House of Representatives until the presidential election in 2016.
“When I saw … what I thought was uncivil behavior rewarded at the ballot box, it got to the point where I concluded that the only way to change our governmental institutions was to change them from within,” Long said.
The Oct. 2 talk was the first in a series of “Lunchbox Talks” occurring at Camas High School (CHS) throughout October. Organized and hosted by the DECA Girls Represent group, the talks feature prominent women such as Long, working in a variety of fields. Future guest speakers include an entrepreneur and a professor of molecular bioscience.
According to Girls Represent leaders Monica Chang and Rachel Blair, both seniors at CHS, the lunchtime talks “are a series of inspiring and informative talks delivered by female professionals in underrepresented fields.”
“Long’s talk is part of a series of ‘Lunchbox Talks’ intended to expose young girls to male-dominated careers like politics, business, STEM, leadership, et cetera,” Chang said.
This is the second year for the CHS “Lunchbox Talks,” and Chang and Blair have been working to increase participation and draw big-name speakers like the Democratic Congressional candidate. The DECA Girls Represent group reached out to several prominent women, including Rep. Herrera Beutler, who was unable to attend due to her commitments in Washington D.C. The group publicized the talks on several social media sites and made a one-minute presentation for CHS teachers to show in their classrooms.
If Tuesday’s lunchtime talk was any indication, the series will prove popular with CHS students. Long’s talk filled the library with mostly female students, although a few young men also attended.
“It looks like attendance was around 120 for A lunch and 150 for B lunch, meaning a total of around 270 students,” Chang said Tuesday afternoon.
After a brief introduction from Long, students asked the Congressional candidate a few questions. One student wanted to know how those who aren’t old enough to vote might get involved in politics.
“There are dozens of races going on right now. You could canvass for campaigns, or just be around the (campaign) office and soak in what’s going on, get introduced to what it’s like,” Long said. “Right now, it’s about getting people out to vote, going to doors and asking, ‘Have you heard about this candidate?’ But there are issues on the ballot — about gun safety, the environment, criminal justice reform — and they may be issues you’re intrigued about and those issues have (get out the vote) efforts as well.”
Asked if she had found that being a woman came with barriers in her field, Long said she had spent the majority of her career in a field — teaching at the university level — that was no longer dominated by men, but that she was hoping to go into a still-male-dominated field.
“I am one of 307 women running for Congress, but only 20 percent of members in Congress are women,” Long pointed out. “Women (in Congress) are significantly underrepresented. That was one of the reasons I decided to run.”
Chang said the DECA Girls Represent group encourages teen girls to explore traditionally male-dominated fields.
“In addition to these ‘Lunchbox Talks,’ we conduct middle school outreach, partner with other high school clubs (Girls Who Code/Global Feminist Club), and are planning to host professional development seminars,” Chang said.
To learn more about the Girls Represent campaign, visit camasgirlsrepresent.weebly.com or @camasgirlsrepresent on Instagram.