Ten years ago, when I was the Davenport representative to the Yale College Council, I spent a good portion of my spring break thinking about one question: Should I run for president of the YCC?
There were so many nuances to the question. Was it a good way to spend my limited time in college? Would I be able to have a meaningful impact? Did student government even make a difference?
But to be honest, I was lying to myself. The question wasn’t nuanced at all — I was confident that student government mattered and that I would be excited and honored to serve as YCC’s leader. The truth was that I was terrified of running in a campuswide election. It made me nauseous to think that I would be judged by people who didn’t know me, and even worse, by people who did. I resolved at the end of spring break that I definitely would not run.
As a New York Times headline declared last October: “The Problem for Women is Not Winning. It’s Deciding to Run.” The article cited a range of studies, including ones that found that men in college are twice as likely to consider running for political office as women. Even when women consider running, they’re half as likely to do it as men.
So it seems that I was in good company with my decision. But when I returned to campus, something changed. Two senior leaders of the YCC — both male — reached out to me and strongly encouraged me to run. And each member of the Executive Team of the Women’s Leadership Initiative did the same. They didn’t tell me to run because I was a woman — they told me to do so because they thought that I was qualified and that I shouldn’t let nerves get in the way.
I was lucky to receive the encouragement. After all, men are 15 percent more likely to be recruited to run for office than women. According to a different study, women need to be encouraged seven times to consider running, while men just need to be encouraged once.
Ultimately, the support I received was game-changing. Leading the YCC turned out to be one of the best learning experiences of my life and remains so to this day.
I learned how to work with a leadership team to develop a vision for what we hoped to accomplish and how to organize and motivate our peers to help make it happen. We learned how to move on from setbacks and how to balance our responsibilities with the many other things that mattered in life. We even got a few big things done — including contributing to major financial aid reform, laying the groundwork for gender-neutral housing and getting locks installed on bedroom doors (yes, that was really something we had to convince the administration to do).
Beyond the learning experience itself, the decision to run fundamentally shaped my career — I now work at Coursera with former University President Richard Levin, whom I would never have known but for student government.
So to every potential candidate, for YCC or another leadership position: run run run run run run run (that’s seven encouragements). I promise there is no better time to step outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll end up learning a ton no matter what happens. And to everyone who knows someone qualified for a competitive leadership role — likely all of you — don’t underestimate the power of a little push.
As a trustee of the Yale College Council, I hope — and bet — that the most qualified candidates will win. And as the only woman to have served as YCC President in the last 16 years, I hope that this race — and every race — will reflect the incredible diversity at Yale.
Rebecca Taber graduated from Yale College in 2008 and was president of the Yale College Council. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .