Almost 50 years after UF’s first female Student Body president, the top Senate positions are filled by women.
UF’s first female Student Body president was Allison Miller in 1973.
Her path to presidency was complicated: The president and vice president both resigned. Miller only held the position for a month before a run-off was held.
In 1962, Joan Gilliatt, then-SG women’s affairs secretary, said there were too few women in SG politics.
Gilliatt wanted to see intelligent, hard-working girls with the right attitude in all areas of SG.
Libby Shaw and Emily Dunson, both from Impact Party, are the first female Senate leadership duo since Fall 2015. Ashley Grabowski and Zarella Berrocal are the first female Inspire caucus minority party leadership team, Grabowski said. A caucus is a group of people with similar values or identities.
Even in highly sought-after roles, the women still experienced discrimination and self-doubt.
Not a time to quit; a time for change
Ashley Grabowski slept about three hours each night during the UF SG election season.
The sleep pattern started during Spring 2018 when Inspire Party ran its first executive ticket campaign. Grabowski, a 22-year-old UF mass communication master’s student, was in charge of marketing and campaign strategy.
Grabowski appreciated the challenge of running the party’s social media campaign in conjunction with her heavy course load and jobs. She stayed up to teach herself Adobe Illustrator through Lynda.com videos and to learn the exact dimensions to print a banner at Target Copy.
As Grabowski crafted content to increase the party’s social media following and balanced her commitments to various organizations, a reputation began to trail her. Some thought she was too aggressive or spoke out too much.
When Grabowski found out about what some thought of her or called her behind her back, she questioned her decisions and feared speaking out.
Grabowski thought her hours of work proved she was worth her salt. She said her experience isn’t unique to her.
“By the time a woman rises to leadership in Student Government, they are so exceptional that no one can even dare to remark against it,” Grabowski said.
Grabowski’s personal experiences with sexism have formed an integral part of her leadership style. She was the Inspire Party president and is now the Senate minority leader.
“We need to make sure that women in leadership isn’t just a seasonal thing whenever it’s popular, but that it’s a part of our culture,” Grabowski said.
A room full of strong women can accomplish anything
Libby Shaw thinks about the 1-in-4 every day.
The 1-in-4 women who will experience sexual assault while attending university.
The Summer after her freshman year, Shaw co-founded Sister Support Ambassadors, a Panhellenic program that creates a dialogue about sexual assault and resources.
“I know dozens of women who have been sexually assaulted in college, and that’s kind of where my passion came from,” Shaw said.
Because of this involvement, Shaw said she’s had women come to her for advice on resources after being assaulted. Each story is heart-wrenching to Shaw, not only because of the depth of each individual, but the amount of these stories she’s heard at UF.
SG was another platform where Shaw, a 21-year-old UF public relations junior, saw she could be a voice for women.
She became a sophomore senator in Spring 2017 and has since represented the College of Journalism and Communications. She has been the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, the Senate Pro Tempore and now the Senate President.
Last summer, Shaw founded the women’s caucus in Senate.
Part of the inspiration stemmed from when she counted the men and women in the Senate and found the male-to-female ratio was not equal nor representative of UF’s population. About half of those elected to Senate this semester were women.
The caucus allows women from both sides of the aisle to collaborate on legislation and to learn more about each other. The caucus is working on resoluions to commemorate Women’s History Month and address issues of sexual assault.
Now as the head of the Senate, Shaw said she hopes to show women who are in their first year of Senate who they can become.
“One of the most important things to make sure is that the people after you are equipped and ready and have the knowledge to do your job better than you did it,” she said.
Standing for those who can’t
Zarella Berrocal was told by close friends and strangers alike that she only got into UF because she was a first-generation, Hispanic woman.
At first, the 20-year-old said she didn’t feel worthy, but now the comments have empowered her growth.
Berrocal said there aren’t many female leaders in her native country of Peru.
“I grew up in a family where gender roles are a very set point. You don’t really see women doing things that men would do, and it made me really angry that it wasn’t happening,” Berrocal said.
This is part of the reason why she chose to major in political science and biomedical engineering, and why she ran for Senate in the first place.
When Berrocal didn’t see herself represented in UF SG, she decided to run her sophomore Fall.
“First-generation students oftentimes don’t stand up for themselves … because they’re scared of doing certain things because they don’t know about it,” Berrocal said.
She’s been a District D senator since Fall 2017 and now serves as the deputy minority party leader for the Inspire caucus. Within SG, Berrocal feels the need to stand out more because she is a woman.
“If we were in the Senate, and there’s only men standing for a question period, then that inequality will make me want to stand up to represent women that aren’t standing up for themselves,” Berrocal said.
Making women feel known
Emily Dunson has a recurring vision for the future.
She sees herself sitting on a roof with a woman many years into the future. They look out over a city and talk about a utopia where women are free from expectation.
This is the catalyst before a big change with Dunson at the helm.
The details may be shaky now, but Senate Pro Tempore Dunson already has the leadership style to make this change happen.
“Women have the power to change people’s lives not only through authority and not only through skill, but also just through the depth in which women have to make people feel known,” she said.
Dunson, a 21-year-old UF public relations junior, gets her love for mentorship from three generations of women in her life, her mom, her grandmother and her great-grandmother, whom she called “Gaga.”
“Gaga” or Myrtice Stolz, was a student at Florida State University, an all-women college at the time, while her boyfriend played football at UF, then a men-only university, in the 1930s. Myrtice and the other FSU girlfriends sat in a special section for Saturday games in the Swamp.
Myrtice’s daughter and Dunson’s grandmother, Ann, was another source of inspiration. As a school teacher in Polk County, Ann noticed the children of migrant workers lacked basic academic resources. She started Cereal Saturdays where children would get a healthy breakfast and receive academic tutoring.
Dunson’s strength in developing personal relationships was well used during her three terms as Budget and Appropriations Committee chair.
She said she enjoyed sitting down with hundreds of student leaders and seeing how they were passionate about the university and creating programming to serve UF’s students.
Dunson enjoys hearing other people out, but said she should not be mistaken for a pushover.
“I think just because you listen to people doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own voice in your own thoughts,” Dunson said.