UMass hosts legislators in ‘Women Leading Western Mass’ panel

Gender, race and government responsibilities were addressed


Photo by Jon Asgeirsson

By Irina Costache, Collegian Staff

On Monday, the University of Massachusetts hosted a panel of female legislators from around western Massachusetts to speak about the issue of gender representation, among others, in the legislature and the public service sector.

The event was titled “Women Leading Western Mass” and was co-hosted by the School of Public Policy and UMass Women into Leadership. The panel featured Sen. Jo Comerford and state representatives Natalie Blais, Lindsay Sabadosa and Mindy Domb. Comerford, Blais and Sabadosa are all the first women to hold their respective positions.

Alasdair Roberts, director of the School of Public Policy, said the event was a great way for students to learn about the various professional paths of legislators and create professional connections. He explained that a major focus of SPP’s curriculum is positive social change.

“We’re proud to have many women leaders among our alumni and our student body,” Roberts said.

When asked about how her gender impacted her run for state representative, Sabadosa said “There were definitely women candidates when I was young…that didn’t run as women…But that matters because it impacts how I view the world. It impacts how I view policy, and it really impacts how I interact with other human beings.”

The panelists discussed this topic further, telling stories of times when they were asked about how campaigning would impact their family life and when they found themselves to be the only female legislators in a room.

“When you’re starting to notice those things, you definitely think ‘who’s voices aren’t being represented?’” Sabadosa said.

Responding to a question from the audience, the panel also addressed the issue of racial inclusion within the state government. Domb encouraged the audience to reach out to their legislators about policy issues and concerns.

“We need to make the face of the State House to look like the face of Massachusetts,” Domb said.

Comerford described a conversation she had with the Senate president, commenting on the overwhelmingly white majority within the State House.

“We have to do something. We have to take responsibility in the Senate for recognizing that we ourselves as elected officials are vastly majority white and, in fact, our teams are vastly majority white… I suggested we share a commitment in the Senate to increase the diversity of our teams,” Comerford said.

The panel also spoke about what they felt Massachusetts government and politics should look like.

Blais commented on the relationship and communication between constituents and their representatives, saying “It is important for each of you to come to the State House…and for it to be normal, acceptable, cherished and celebrated.”

Comerford also shared a similar sentiment, saying “I believe…that the government can and should work on behalf of everybody.”

Toward the end of the panel, the legislators were asked to give advice to any students considering a career in public service.

“Do it. Really do it. If you’re doing it because you believe, and you’re feeling compelled and committed to being involved and engaged with our community, working with other people, understanding other people…do it,” Domb said.

“Let your passion lead you because that is most reflective of your authentic self, and that’s what people want. That’s what we seek…If there’s an issue you’re passionate about, let that be what guides you,” Sabadosa said.

The SPP also offers a Beacon Hill Project that brings students on monthly trips to Boston to meet with their elected officials and others involved in policy.

UWiL accepts applications for their leadership program each August.

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected]