Historically, women are under-represented in U.S. government. They presently hold 18.5 percent of seats in Congress, according to the Center for American Women in Politics.
Deb Fischer is one of those women. Nebraska’s junior U.S. Senator spent an hour with UNL students Feb. 19 sharing her experiences as one of 20 women in the 100-member chamber.
Fischer was invited to the Women and Politics class by instructor and UNL graduate student Laura Roost.
Fischer’s experiences lended themselves to many of the larger questions the class has been tackling about women’s access to politics, barriers to women’s participation and women’s rights.
While Roost has taught the class with an international perspective, she has also concentrated on local and state politics, which led to Fischer’s visit.
“Senator Fischer is the first Nebraskan woman elected to a full term in the Senate, so she is representative of a woman breaking barriers in Nebraska politics,” Roost said.
Fischer spoke of her path to the Senate, the biases that exist toward women, how the media presents women in politics and how diversity in Congress is a benefit. She also discussed balancing work and family life, drawing on her experiences in public service to explain her philosophy on being a woman in politics.
“Can you have it all?” Fischer said. “I don’t think anyone can have it all. You have to make choices throughout life.
“But don’t worry too much about those choices,” she told students. “Opportunities always present themselves. If you work hard and prepare, you’ll always be ready to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Fischer fielded questions from students that ranged from her involvement in public service to her stance on different issues. In the end, some students said Fischer debunked their preconceived notions about her.
“It’s very exciting to see her because she is a woman and you don’t usually get to have that personal connection,” senior Audrey Smith said. “She also mentioned how the media portrays her differently, but to see her in class, and how she is in person was very cool. She is a woman. She knows that it’s different, but I think it’s cool that she focuses on the issues.”
Fellow senior Mairead Safranek said she liked the senator’s point about women’s issues being everyone’s issues.
“We’ve talked in class about the concept and how the way you address women’s issues can affect the way they are perceived by the rest of the world,” Safranek said.
Roost has planned another guest lecture with a woman in Nebraska politics; the class is planning a visit to the Nebraska Legislature in March to meet with Tanya Cook, one of the first African-American women elected to the statehouse. Cook represents District 13 in Omaha.