Massiel Torres ’17 said she never really thought of herself as a very political person—particularly the politics of her adopted home, having come to Boston from the Dominican Republic five years ago.
The WLP major was “all L,” she said, referring to the “Literature” in Writing, Literature and Publishing.
Then the November election happened.
So when School of the Arts Dean Rob Sabal emailed Torres to tell her about a college women’s leadership program, she decided to apply.
A couple of weeks ago, Torres learned she was accepted to the NEW (National Education for Women) Leadership New England program this summer, where she will join women from colleges across the region to learn about politics, conflict resolution, media relations, and more. NEW Leadership New England is run through the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, and is one of 19 similar programs NEW Leadership offers nationally.
She said she’s a “little familiar” with how things in Boston are run, but “politics in this country… it’s completely different from [politics in] my country.
“Since the last election, I’ve been really interested in figuring out how politics works in this country; and I thought this would be a really great opportunity to not only know how they work, but to find out how to participate, and how I can project my concerns to people who can help me,” she said.
The need to encourage young women leaders is apparent, according to statistics provided by the Center for American Women in Politics. Just 104 out of 535 members, or 19.4 percent, of Congress are women. Only 38 are women of color.
But NEW Leadership is geared not just to women hoping to run for office, but also to any woman interested in journalism, sociology, law, and philosophy/religion, NEW Leadership says.
Participants in the five-day program meet with women leaders; gain leadership skills for a diverse society; and learn about the history of women in politics and public service, according to NEW Leadership. “Through workshops, guest speakers, and hands-on activities, students learn how they can influence politics and public policy through their careers, develop leadership skills, and break down barriers that have traditionally kept women from achieving their political aspirations,” a fact sheet reads.
Torres said her biggest concerns right now are women’s health, specifically as it relates to reproductive health, as well as healthcare access in general, and immigration issues in the city of Boston.
Despite not considering herself “political,” Torres already had a strong interest in human rights. Last year, through the Emerson Enhancement Fund, Torres said she traveled to Santo Domingo, where she worked with nonprofit organizations on a research project studying sex workers in the Dominican capital. The project focused on gay and transgender sex workers, who are often erased from the discussion whenever laws or protections are being considered, Torres said.
In addition, she was recognized by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as a distinguished cultural activist in the city’s Dominican community, and, in March 2016, was named one of seven most notable Dominican women under age 25 by the Dominican Republic’s SIN news channel, Sabal said. She’s published two short stories in Dominican publications and was a fiction reader this year for Words Apart, an Emerson social issues magazine.
Sabal met Torres when she was nominated to speak to incoming students at a transfer student orientation session earlier this year (Torres herself was a transfer student).
“I met with Massiel and was deeply impressed by her incredible poise, her sparkling intelligence, and her sincere generosity,” said Sabal, who, along with WLP Assistant Professor Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, wrote recommendations to NEW Leadership on behalf of Torres.
“Massiel is exactly the kind of smart, compassionate, and service-oriented person that our country needs in public affairs,” Sabal said.
Torres said she’s not giving up on the “L” in WLP; her long-term goal is to get a PhD in comparative literature. But she’s taking some time between her graduation from Emerson and applying to programs and is currently applying for jobs in publishing and public relations.
She credits Emerson with encouraging her to cultivate both her artistic and her activist sides.
“One of the things I take from Emerson is my interest in diversity issues and politics—had I not gone to Emerson, I don’t think I would [have] take[n] that turn,” Torres said. “That’s something I’ve learned through the classes and people I’ve met at Emerson, how to integrate those things, how to keep up with the world as I’m thinking about [esoteric] things.”