Women and politics: Nicole Baltzer '17 pursues her passions
In 2016, the topic of women and politics is nothing new; this year marks the first time a woman was nominated for president by a major party. Muhlenberg has long been a hotbed of student activism and political engagement, and 'Berg has a politically minded woman of its own who exemplifies that culture today: Nicole Baltzer '17.
“I don’t believe in the notion of a woman in a man’s world,” said Baltzer, a political science major with minors in women’s and gender studies and religion studies. “Even though people have told me that political science is traditionally considered a profession for men, I’ve been really inspired by the work and mentorship of women like [associate professor of political science Lanethea] Mathews-Schultz and [associate professor and chair of political science Michele] Deegan.”
It was a fortunate turn of events that led Baltzer to conducting research on coverage of the aforementioned presidential campaign (Hillary Clinton, for anyone who’s managed to avoid all forms of media for the better part of a year) with Mathews-Schultz in the political science department.
While Baltzer was originally planning to do research in another department, she was soon immersed in the project where the two were analyzing sexism in election coverage of the Clinton campaign in outlets including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Their findings? In elite journalism, sexism is more engrained than it is overt.
Baltzer’s collaboration with Mathews-Schultz was presented at a Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges conference and morphed into a co-written op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It will also feed into Baltzer’s honors thesis—good preparation for graduate programs focusing on political science and gender studies, one of which Baltzer hopes to pursue after graduation.
“I first met Nicole when she enrolled in my class on Political Organization & Democratic Voice as a first-year student. She was far and away one of the sharpest minds in the room,” said Mathews-Schultz. “Nicole has worked hard to build her academic curriculum around primary interests related to gender and gender identity. The research she has worked on and continues to work on is innovative, and moves beyond simply studying women in politics, to understanding, in much more nuanced ways, how politics creates gender. Nicole has pushed the boundaries of political science research in extremely commendable ways.”
Baltzer doesn’t limit her political pursuits to the classroom. In addition to her role in College Democrats, Baltzer is one of the co-founders of Berg Votes, an organization aimed at increasing voter turnout on campus.
As Berg Votes’ efforts are ramping up as the general election nears, Baltzer reflects on how much the organization has accomplished so far.
“[This past academic year] we put together an issues expo to further educate students about the candidates and the major issues in the election. Different clubs and organizations picked an issue and tabled about it. I was very happy with how successful it was,” she said.
Berg Votes also created promotional materials—such as stickers—to get the buzz going on campus, made a concerted effort to increase the popularity of their hashtag (#bergvotes) and conducted a “Why I Voted” photo campaign. This fall, the students involved in Berg Votes will continue to work in collaboration with the political science department and others on election-related programming, continuing to cater towards students’ interests.
But Baltzer's interests—and her successes—extend beyond politics and gender. Outside the classroom, she’s held leadership positions in and been involved with Multicultural Council, inclusivity organization SQuAd and the Feminist Collective. In the classroom, she also excels in religion studies with a focus on Islam.
Her mentor in religion studies is, unsurprisingly, another strong female role model. Sharon Albert, senior lecturer in religion studies, has “supported me through every step of academic growth and has been an incredible help,” according to Baltzer. The respect is obviously mutual.
“It is hard to know where to begin to sing Nicole’s praises. She is passionate about ideas and cares deeply about the real world implications of what she learns in the classroom. Nicole is particularly adept at making connections and finding points of intersection between her many interests,” Albert said. “She also connects with impressive fluidity the work she does in the classroom with her co-curricular activities. Nicole also has a great sense of perspective, and approaches everything she does with a sense of humor and just an edge of self-deprecation that does not minimize what she does, but makes clear that she knows there is a whole lot more she would still like to explore and discover.”
Explore and discover Baltzer will. No matter how she pursues her passions, it is clear that great things are on the horizon for one of Muhlenberg’s own women in politics.