June Speakman is a professor of political science at Roger Williams University and has focused her research on the role of gender in politics. She is the current Democratic candidate for State Representative, District 68, Bristol & Warren. Professor Speakman was previously on the Barrington Town Council for 14 years.
You’ve worked at Roger Williams since 1995. What are some of the most profound lessons you’ve learned from your students over these past 24 years? I’ve learned how quickly our language changes. Freshmen teach me new things every year and help me keep up with cultural changes. They also teach me tolerance and open-mindedness. I am deeply impressed by how open-minded this generation of students is. They’re very accepting of people who would have been rejected in the past. This generation is very accepting of the great variety of ways to be human.
You were on the Barrington Town Council for 14 years. What made you decide to run? I got into politics the same way many women do: through my children. I was active in the Parent Teacher Organization, which is a very normal, expected role as a mom. Then I was approached by the local democratic office. It never occurred to me once in my life that I would run for office.
You’re currently the democratic candidate for the 68th district. Across the country, women are underrepresented in elected office. How have you managed this adversity during your run for state office? My gender never came up in a campaign. It isn’t too bad for women in politics in Rhode Island. Things are changing and there are far fewer obstacles now than when I was younger. You really just have to move forward when things happen. It’s important to find women who support you — other women in the general assembly have been very supportive of me in this campaign.
What advice would you give to individuals hoping to run for office in the future? I would say that you should get involved in the community in some way or the other. Careers in public service aren’t the highest paying jobs in the world, but they are extremely gratifying. You need thick skin and you need to be willing to compromise. We love idealism but we need people who can write legislation that can be enacted now. I also think being an educator is the best career. I have the ability to interact with young folks and bounce around controversial ideas. My advice for any job is to find something that makes your heart sing. Money is important but you need to be happy.