Monic Behnken, assistant professor in sociology, lead this week’s Feminist Friday on the impact of black female leadership on local level politics. During this discussion she reflected on her experiences running for school board.
“My journey in deciding to run, and what my race actually looked like has been a process of growth for me,” Monic Behnken said.
Monic Behnken reflected on her interest and she stated she wasn’t seeing leadership in the government and she wasn’t seeing any on the horizon. She kept seeing things that were concerning and was waiting for someone who represented the future and the things she valued.
“It became clear that that person wasn’t coming and I realized that I was that person,” Monic Behnken said. “I realized I had an obligation to engage in the process more actively than I had been.”
She decided to run for office and do it locally. One of the things she stated she had to learn was what it means to be “a black women running for office in a predominantly white environment.”
Something she noticed over time that it was important to other people that she identifies as a black women, and in different ways than it was for her. Because of this, she had to learn what it meant for other people and understand what it meant in the minds of other people.
Monic Behnken’s husband and “white ally,” Brian Behnken, associate professor in history, helped her navigate this process and understand some of the things she was experiencing.
“When I walked into a room, my blackness spoke to people in ways that I had never realized,” Monic Behnken said.
Some of the other aspects of running that Monic Behnken reflected included the fact that because of the lack of women of color in leadership, there was no role model to look up to or model after. A barrier she had to get past was the fact that people would see her as a person of color first, and she had to get past that before people would hear what she had to say.
Monic Behnken made sure her face was on the sign because it was important to her that people knew they would be hearing a women of color’s voice and she wanted to change the way people thought about this.
“I wanted a little kid walking by my sign and being like ‘oh, I can do that’, just to open up the doors for this new generation,” Monic Behnken said.
Because of this sign, some people she had met with had already made assumptions of who she was, based off of her picture.
“Most people assumed I was a radical activist that was just coming to set the system on fire,” Monic Behnken said, “they were afraid of that.”
After getting over this barrier, Monic Behnken found people were very receptive of who she is.
“The community is craving female leadership,” Monic Behnken said. “People were so excited that I had decided to run, that I was a woman that was running, that I was a person of color that was running.”
During the discussion, Monic Behnken also discussed finding a balance in serving and being a functioning human being, the ease of fundraising if you have the support of the community, door knocking, the time commitment and other advice for women looking to run for any type of government or office.
Monic Behnken ended by saying “My journey overall has been positive, I am glad that I did it, but I think we really have an opportunity here in Ames to do some amazing things and I’m grateful to share this with you all, I hope you all will think about running or supporting people.”