A trailblazer in Congress

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro urges female students to persist in politics

Kelsey Paul, Staff Writer

If there was ever a time to encourage women to persevere in any political setting, it was one week before the 2020 presidential election — a race that could result in the first female vice president in United States history. Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut did just that in a virtual event on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Rosa DeLauro spoke to Quinnipiac students about her experience as a female in politics. (Wikimedia commons)

Quinnipiac’s chapter of Leading Women of Tomorrow (LWT) hosted the event along with Quinnipiac Democrats and Quinnipiac’s Political Science Association. Over 35 people attended the panel.

Gabriella Colello, LWT president and senior political science and law in society major, commenced the event by introducing DeLauro. Quinnipiac President Judy Olian followed up with a preface of DeLauro’s past and connection to the New Haven area, asserting that she was “born to public service.”

“We hoped to send out a message of hope (through this event) that women definitely have a place in politics and confidence that there are people to support them in reaching those goals,” said Ohidiani Imevbore, LWT vice president and a junior political science and international business double major. “Our aim is to inspire the student body, particularly the women to go for the roles as president of their class, senators and much more.”

DeLauro spoke about a variety of topics, ranging from her path to Washington, D.C., to her unique experiences as a woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. She also encouraged young women who study political science to persist despite the challenges they will face as women in a male-dominated field.

“As an organization that aims to propel women to the front of politics and encourage them to take up more leadership roles, we believe hearing from Rosa DeLauro, a strong, politically active woman, was one of the best ways to inspire members of our organization and the wider student body to aim to break the status quo,” Imevbore said. “Having such a trailblazing congresswoman in our state is such a privilege, especially one who speaks on a lot of what our organization stands for.”

DeLauro characterized her path to Congress as one of perseverance, calling it a “steep learning curve.” She acknowledged that she had a different background, while many who run for Congress have impressive experience that makes them appear more worthy.

“Most people who do run for Congress have maybe served on a city council or as a state representative — some way of having a legislative experience. That was not my experience,” DeLauro said. “But I did it, and yeah, I was nervous about it, but I did it. It’s about taking the chance and not being, you know, risk-averse.”

Her message of perseverance resonated with the audience, as she shared that hard work truly does pay off.

“After a bruising 12-month campaign against a Republican opponent, I arrived in Washington,” DeLauro said.

Getting to Washington, D.C. was undoubtedly an accomplishment alone, but DeLauro shared that she was presented with new challenges as a woman in the House.

“When I first went to testify before the defense appropriations subcommittee, Jerry Lewis, a Republican from California, said to me, and I quote: ‘Congresswoman DeLauro, can you speak about the M1A1 tank without looking at your notes?’” DeLauro said.

This is just one example of the many sexist remarks that women of any political position inevitably receive, she said. DeLauro’s response to Lewis resonated with all women in attendance at the Zoom event, who reacted with a clapping emoji — a sign of approval in 2020.

“I said to him, ‘Damn straight I can,’” DeLauro said. “The lesson was clear: the job demanded very different levels of performance for men and for women.”

It was this kind of confidence and unwillingness to submit to male domination that made DeLauro’s message so powerful.

“What is possible when women are in ‘the room where it happens?’ to quote ‘Hamilton,’” DeLauro asked. “Women still make only 3% of the House of Representatives. There continues to be a glass ceiling.”

Additionally, DeLauro answered a number of questions sent in by attendees. Many of the questions asked about her advice and inspiration to persevere when faced with challenges, especially as a woman in politics.

“Know what you speak of. Don’t be afraid to speak and fight for what you believe in. Do your homework,” DeLauro said in response to an inquiry. “Don’t take no for an answer. Be willing to compromise, but only after you have made your case to persuade people. Stay engaged, stay involved. You can’t get discouraged. You’ll come around again.”

Know what you speak of. Don’t be afraid to speak and fight for what you believe in. Do your homework

— Rosa DeLauro

DeLauro spoke of her many accomplishments, but specifically about her role in passing a Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Bill into law, which enhanced protections against pay discrimination.

“I got a chance, along with my colleague George Miller, to introduce that legislation. And we passed the Lilly Ledbetter Bill. It was the first bill that (former President) Barack Obama signed,” DeLauro said. “I have now introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act — simple premise: men and women in the same job deserve the same pay.”

DeLauro’s experience and unrelenting perseverance in her work for equality for women makes her a trailblazer in both local and federal politics. In addition, DeLauro is up for re-election this year against Republican candidate Margaret Streicker of Milford, who has heavily criticized DeLauro’s work in Congress.

“Congresswoman DeLauro is a leading woman of today as she stands as Connecticut’s longest serving female congressional representative and has fought tenaciously for some of the most pressing issues in politics today,” Imevbore said. “This is something we hope to show the women on the campus is possible for them, too.”

DeLauro closed with a quotation from her mother, written in 1933, that is still relevant today: “Come on girls, let’s make ourselves heard!”