On Thursday, March 31, the College Democrats hosted a Women in Politics forum in Brandywine room 031.
Carolyn Comitta, Mayor of the Borough of West Chester, spoke about her diverse set of occupations.
After graduating from West Chester University and receiving her M.Ed. from Widener University, she went on to become a teacher. From there, she became involved in World Information Transfer, Inc., an environmental non-profit organization.
Afterwards, she went on to become a West Chester Borough council member, chair for the Pennsylvania Municipal League (PML) University Community Network, and a member of the PML’s Board of Directors, Legislative Committee, and Coalition for Sustainable Communities. She has also declared her candidacy for Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives for the 156th district.
Kathi Cozzone, Vice Chair of the Chester County Commissioners, has also been active in a variety of areas over her political career.
After graduating with an accounting degree from the College of New Jersey, she applied to a plethora of fields.
She currently maintains a position on Chester County’s Advisory Board of the Child Advocacy Center.
Furthermore, she has been recognized for her work in establishing her county’s first monument dedicated to Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and by the Pennsylvania Library Association for her continued support in public libraries.
In 2012, she also became a part of the Chester County Workforce Investment Board.
Both politicians began the night by speaking to WCU students about the political process and encouraging them to get involved through registering to vote and seeking out political campaigns and attending general assembly meetings to familiarize oneself with the local and county issues.
Furthermore, they referenced the internship positions open to students in their offices.
Throughout the forum both Comitta and Cozzone spoke of their experience with gender in politics, the youth vote, the nature of municipalities, and more. This night also gave the students that attended the chance to ask each person questions.
When one student asked which role models they had when they were young, Comitta referenced Nancy Drew, the titular character of a popular mystery book series, and Anne from “Anne of Green Gables,” whom she named her daughter after. She stated that both were strong figures to her because they were “independent” “strong” and “inspiring” during a time where women did not typically have those kinds of roles back then.
Additionally, she stated that she admired the United States’ first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and John Glenn, one of the first astronauts to orbit the Earth.
Cozzone answered this question by telling the story of her grandmother whom she admired because of how hard she worked and provided for her family after her husband passed away.
During a two-on-one interview, they were asked how to raise awareness about local and county politics in students and what age range would be ideal for that education. Both Cozzone and Comitta were in favor of beginning that education before high school.
Cozzone stated, “There’s an organization called KidsVot[ingUSA], but they only do it every four years in a presidential year, and I think that it’s a great idea and a great program, I’m not trying to denigrate the program…but in a way, unfortunately the unintended consequence is that it fosters this idea that you only need to vote once every four years. So I think we need to get our kids into voting every year…I’d like to see our kids do something every year.”
KidsVotingUSA is a nonpartisan group that has built cirriculums for the K-12 grade levels to educate about the political system. Comitta then said, “In terms of civics, there’s a course that was recently developed called ‘Civics and You.’ It’s an online course that’s meant to complement high school civics classes for Pennsylvania Municipal week. It’s free, online, and is good.”
She further advocated for this course by stating that it is a “requirement for all of [her] interns.”
In response to changes in feminism through her career, Comitta referred to a reporter who asked her about what significance she attached to being the first woman mayor of West Chester.
“…And it was difficult being the first woman doing a lot of things [during the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s]. So in terms of change over the years, my answer to that reporter in 2010 was… in 2010, it should not be about ‘Hooray, a woman is the mayor of West Chester.’ It should be the right person for the job. But there still are firsts… Whether it’s the first for someone of a certain age, gender, or a culture, or whatever to do something, it’s notable. But today it tends to be a woman being front page news for doing something… I don’t think that’s what it’s about anymore. It’s about quality and competence and being the right person for the job.”
Cozzone furthered the discussion by stating, “I think the fight that’s left are topics like pay equality… I still think in some ways [being the first woman] is an accomplishment… that there had been a barrier for a woman that didn’t allow for a woman to take that position or have that place.”
Cozzone concurred that a front page news story should not put emphasis on a woman’s gender.
“The front page story should be that, ‘This person is going to be a great mayor and here’s the reasons why, and by the way, to add another first for the borough, or something,’” said Cozzone. “I give a lot of credit to the women who fought those fights, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them… but I, in my professional career, did experience the glass ceiling and the pay inequities and all that’s still out there, and I think those are battles that we still have to fight. But I think that men have recognized that gender equality is an issue for them, too.”
Comitta and Cozzone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com respectively. The WCU Democrats can be reached at KC831704@wcupa.edu.
Halle Nelson is a second-year student majoring in communication studies with minors in English literature and deaf studies. HN824858@wcupa.edu