Fresh wave of female politicians inspires school’s JSA members

Kamala Harris, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among growing number of female politicians inspiring girls in Junior Statesmen of America club

A+girl+stands+in+the+shadow+of+her+role+model+as+she+aspires+to+follow+in+her+footsteps+toward+a+career+in+politics.

JungHyun Lee

A girl stands in the shadow of her role model as she aspires to follow in her footsteps toward a career in politics.

Divya Bharadwaj

The Junior Statesmen of America [JSA] dropped the “men” from its name — and rightfully so.

At Sunny Hills High School, from the look of its cabinet leaders, it could be referred to as Junior Stateswomen of America.

For the 2020-2021 school year, the cabinet comprises nine girls in charge of overseeing the 30-member club meetings, which are focused on educating members about politics. Two-thirds of the students who regularly attend JSA’s virtual meetings are girls.

So it’s not surprising that all of the cabinet members believe that female politicians like Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are creating more opportunities for them.

“I feel like [they have] definitely opened the door for more women to pursue careers, and [although] it’s not something I’m interested in, I think these amazing women have paved the way for us,” said senior Jenna Beining, JSA president. 

Beining pointed especially to Harris as her inspiration.

“She’s the first … woman of color to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate, and she’s definitely supported environmental friendly policies in the past,” she said. “She has a lot of good ideas for our country.”

Beining’s junior president, secretary and treasurer are also glad to see this wave of female representation in politics. 

“Being Asian myself, I think it’s amazing that Kamala Harris is the first Black and [South] Asian vice presidential candidate,” said junior Malini Pandey, JSA junior president. “I think she’s paving the way for a lot of us.”

Pandey said she recognizes how such leaders incorporate diversity into politics and hopes to pursue law.

As JSA treasurer, senior Krisin Valido took interest in politics after the 2016 election.

“Having Kamala [possibly] become vice president makes me happier than anything in the world,” Valido said. “It encourages me to spread the word to vote and get more into politics to do my part as a citizen.” 

JSA secretary junior Manishi Jayasuria is unsure if she will pursue politics but is glad to see more representation. 

“I think Harris being vice president is better than Mike Pence, but she has some policies and views I don’t agree with,” Jayasuriya said. 

Senior Kathryn Aurelio, JSA’s publicity and social media director, said she’s inspired by Ocasio-Cortez, who advocates for social, racial, economic and environmental justice. 

Aurelio said she plans on pursuing a path in politics and believes that women like the Democratic congresswoman have opened up opportunities for her to pursue a career in politics. 

“Politics has been dominated by men, and I think having women leaders or people of color pursuing a career in politics definitely opens up a path for me,” said Aurelio, who’s also the ASB activities commissioner and senior class secretary,

Some of the 20 girls in JSA also look to Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota’s representative, Ilhan Omar.

Junior Shelly Fonseca said she became interested in politics because she wants to help the people who do not have a voice in the government. She is not sure if she will pursue politics in the future but hopes to have a career related to social sciences. 

“Politics has enhanced my growth by causing me to expand my thinking, such as always keeping an open mind without prejudices based on political beliefs,” Fonseca said. “I have the idea that everyone should always try to seek the understanding of others and have equity for all.”

She looks up to Alexandria Occasio-Cortez because her core values are important to Fonseca as well. 

While more women are entering politics, Fonseca believes more are still needed. 

“It does open doors for myself, but I would still need to push forward if I wanted to pursue a career in politics,” she said. “It is empowering to see a Latinx female in the House of Representatives, [and] I do think it is a stepping stone for women, but I do not believe there are enough women.” 

When sophomore Tazia Mohammad, JSA’s director of political activism, heard Omar speak for the first time, she felt inspired, but this was not the only event that led her to pursue politics. As Mohammad already came from a family that emphasized the importance of being politically involved, the next step for her was obvious  — become a politician.  

Mohammad said Omar is the first naturalized citizen of African birth, the first Somali American and the first woman of color to represent Minnesota in the House of Representatives. 

“Rep. Ilhan Omar gave me confidence because now I know despite having an Islamic last name, I can still go very far in a field that has been historically dominated by men,” said the sophomore, who plans to pursue law in college. 

JSA adviser David Fenstermaker is happy to see the increased female representation in government positions. 

“I have two daughters, so the idea that my girls can see women succeeding at the highest levels of government and national politics and use those women as role models for their own lives is great.” Fenstermaker said. 

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 30 print issue, which can be read here.