Cal Lutheran celebrates 100 years of women’s suffrage

Joslyn Buckley, Reporter

California Lutheran University’s Fifty and Better program and the Center for Nonprofit Leadership assembled a panel of local female leaders for “Women in Leadership: Celebrating Women’s Right to Vote and Exploring What’s Next” on Oct. 2 via Zoom.

“Exercising our right to vote has never seemed more important than it does at this very moment in our nation’s history,” panelist and Cal Lutheran President Lori Varlotta said in an email interview. “It is my hope that the fellow panelists and I will have encouraged some nonvoters—especially women and mothers who are juggling so much right now.”

President Lori Varlotta is Cal Lutheran’s first female president. (Contributed: Cal Lutheran Media Relations)

The panel served as an opportunity to not only discuss the importance of voting, but shed light on political issues facing women.

Nearly 100 people from across the country attended the Zoom event.

The panelists included Varlotta, Jeannette Sanchez-Palacios, district 44 director for the California State Assembly, Leanne Neilson, provost and VP for Academic Affairs at Cal Lutheran, Lorrie Brown, City of Ventura councilmember, Claudia Bill-de la Peña, Thousand Oaks mayor pro tem and Regina Biddings-Muro, VP of University Advancement at Cal Lutheran.

Neilson shared the story of her first recollection of civic engagement.

“I was like 5 or 6 years old and my mother took me with her to the polling location. And I remember holding her hand and she pulled me into that voting booth and I could sense that this was a really important event,” Neilson said. “I think that the takeaway for me on this is … the seriousness that you place on voting will make a really big impression on your kids and grandkid.”

Biddings-Muro said she too became politically engaged at a young age.

“This club of women–all working class women … would have these meetings every Saturday and at these meetings they were talking about educational opportunities, housing–fair housing and social justice … [I noticed] the determination of these women who would work whatever all their jobs were and then in their spare time they would talk about a social justice agenda for the neighborhood,” Biddings-Muro said.

Vice President for University Advancement Regina Biddings-Muro said she was inspired in her youth by women in her community who came together to discuss political issues on a regular basis. (File Photo by Sarah Harber)

During the panel, Mayor Bill-de la Peña said women have a civic duty to remain engaged.

“When I first ran for city council, I was told–in Thousand Oaks–I would never win because of my last name … and I proved them wrong. I defeated an incumbent … I defeated a man,” said Bill-de la Peña.

Continuing on the topic of personal success in the political sphere, Sanchez-Palacios said, “success is not a straight line. Success is more like a squiggly line that goes all over the place, sometimes it goes back and forward again.”

All of the panelists agreed that women, no matter where they are in their career paths, should seek out mentors and reach out–even to strangers–for advice.

Brown also said reading has been an important aspect of her personal success. She said some of her favorite biographies have been about “Barabara Jordan, Willie Brown, and Donna Brazil.”

The panelists also discussed the importance of creating allies with men and teaching our sons and brothers the importance of lifting women up.

Brown, Ventura City Council member and a Cal Lutheran alumna, said in a Zoom interview that the panel was “a wonderful opportunity for women in the county to get together and share what their challenges have been … and what we see as possible in the future.”

She added, “I think the future is female and it’s exciting.”