Breaking binaries: Alumni speak at Women’s History Month panel


Riley Fletcher

Three alumni gathered on Internation Women’s Day to speak about their experiences.

by Riley Fletcher, Website Editor

As part of the Women’s History Month lecture series, three Simpson College alumni took part in a panel for women in politics and public policy. They discussed the figures and events in women’s and genderqueer history that inspire their work and talked about their experiences in politics.
The panel consisted of three alumni, MacKenzie Bills, class of 2016, Cecilia Guadalupe Martinez, class of 2018, and Emily Schwickerath, class of 2018.
The event was co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies department and the Culver Public Policy Center. According to Seth Andersen, the college’s theme for Women’s History Month is “breaking binaries.”
MacKenzie Bills
During her time at Simpson, Bills was a Culver Public Policy Fellow and majored in political science and international relations. She founded Simpson Votes, a non-partisan student voter engagement group, in 2012. Bills currently works with the U.S. State Department to monitor and combat human trafficking in East Africa. Bills is now running in the Democratic primary for the new Iowa House 40.
Bills reflected on her experience as a woman in politics, addressing sexism she has faced while working at the U.S. State Department.
“I worked for lots of different people and it’s funny how microaggressions can come about. I’ve been told simultaneously to step up but also to step back,” Bills said. “I’ve been told both I don’t speak loud enough by one boss, but I need to sit down and shut up from another boss. When I think about the glass ceilings that we still have yet to break–the barriers that we’re still stuck at–those are the moments we’re living every day, the double standards, ideas that our society thinks we should be.”
Bills talked about people who have inspired her by breaking barriers, firstly, her own grandmother. Instead of taking a traditional “womanly” job, her grandmother went to work for a sales company, despite her family’s protests.
“She was the only woman in a 2,000-employee company,” Bills said. “…She’s told me many times, like, ‘MacKenzie, I got my job on my merit and I kept my job on my merit.’ And I think about all those things that she did and breaking that stereotype for being in that company so that way I can continue to do the work that I am today.”
Another inspiration for Bills was Eleanor Roosevelt, who played a large role in her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, and continued to work in politics for 20 years after his death.
Cecilia Guadalupe Martinez
Martinez studied political science and served as student body vice president during their time at Simpson. While at Simpson, Martinez was an undergraduate assistant for multicultural affairs and an SC Leader. Post-graduation, Martinez took a job with the Office of Latino Affairs and the Iowa Department of Human Rights. They now work for a women’s health center and remain active in state and local politics, supporting young people running for office.
Martinez cites the writing and teachings of people such as Angela Davis and Kimberlee Crenshaw as some of their sources of inspiration. Martinez also credited their sister as another powerful woman they look up to.
“She taught me a lot of perseverance. Growing up, she came to this country already kind of a teenager, had to learn the language. She gave me as much advice as possible, like expect this, here’s how you do this,” Martinez said. “She’s very much a fighter and still to this day, she’s organized several of her workplaces against mistreatment from management. She has never let anybody say anything negative to her, whether it’s because she’s a woman, because of her status, because of the language she speaks.”
Emily Schwickerath
Schwickerath studied political science at Simpson and was on the speech and debate team and an active member of the College Republicans. She was also a Culver Public Policy Fellow and was involved with SGA. Schwickerath has worked on several successful election campaigns of several Republican candidates for the Iowa State Senate. She now works for Rep. Randy Feenstra.
Schwickerath talks about how she was worried about balancing a family or wanting to have a family and keeping up with the demands of politics and the government. Someone who she looks up to is Sheryl Sandberg, Meta Platforms executive and author of the book “Lean In.” Schwickerath talks about how Sandberg leaned into being a woman and not letting her family or her gender pull her back.
“The most prominent example from the book that has really stuck with me is that when you’re in a room for a meeting, do you sit at the table or do you sit at the chairs behind the table,” Schwickerath said. “I never sat at the table. After reading that chapter, I always sit at the table even if I’m not quite sure I should be one at the table. I’m sitting there because I know if I was a man I would just sit at the table, so why not?”
Schwickerath says she looks up to her mom and grandma as powerful women. Schwickerath grew up on a farm and though her mother worked as a teacher, she was always willing to help around the farm.
“Whether it was harvest or spring planting, she was always out there and so I never saw or really until reflecting back, thinking that there’s a specific role for my dad and a specific role for my mom. It was all hands on deck and you should help out and do whatever you can to be part of a project. I think that’s part of the reason I never felt like I had to be a teacher or go into more stereotypical roles that women held.”