“Women oftentimes feel less qualified to get involved in politics, but they end up doing just as well as men. The first step is to help women build confidence and believe in themselves,” says Dr. Whitney Manzo.
Dr. Manzo is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and a Pre-Law Advisor at Meredith College. She also serves as Assistant Director of the Meredith Poll, a North Carolina survey research organization that asks North Carolinians their opinions on current political and social issues. According to Dr. Manzo, it is the only survey research organization in the state that focuses on issues pertaining to women. As a professor at a women’s college, Dr. Manzo makes it her mission to support and encourage women in every class that she teaches and focuses her research on women in politics. She says, “I don’t do this research because it’s just an interest of mine, but because I believe research and data can be used to get more women involved in politics.”
Dr. Manzo explains that women-only colleges serve as important spaces for women who are interested in perusing a career in politics. Students are able to learn and have open discussions about how public policies affect the issues that matter to them, such as education, health care, and sexual violence. In Dr. Manzo’s time as a professor at Meredith College, she has seen the impact that young women have had on policy changes in North Carolina. Dr. Manzo’s most memorable moment as a professor was when she supported students organize a panel at Meredith College, “How Does a Bill Become a Law?” that led to changes in the law regarding the withdrawal of consent in North Carolina. Dr. Manzo was approached by a pre-law student who was outraged by legislation that, at the time, would not allow women to withdraw consent once beginning a sexual act. In response to this, Meredith College faculty and students decided to come together and organize a bipartisan panel discussion with North Carolina legislators.
Dr. Manzo says, “one of the legislators in attendance first heard of this issue at our panel and later decided to become a sponsor of the bill that eventually was signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper in 2019.” Dr. Manzo describes the panel as a turning point in helping lead to the passage of Senate Bill 199, which as Dr. Manzo explains, helped strengthen penalties against child abusers and closed loopholes in existing sexual assault laws, such as allowing women to revoke consent during sex. Dr. Manzo also acknowledges Staff Attorney, Skye David and the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA) for their instrumental role in helping identify key legislators to invite on the panel. Reflecting on the success of this event, Dr. Manzo says, “this is what happens when women come together to create change.” “A group of young women helped change the law in North Carolina.”