In a short essay from the new release “Yes She Can: 10 Stories of Hope & Change from Young Female Staffers of the Obama White House,” Andrea R. Flores ’10 describes her trajectory from becoming the first Latina president of the Undergraduate Council to working tirelessly in the hopes of seeing an immigration bill become law. Now a lawyer, Flores spoke to The Harvard Crimson about working in the White House, life at Harvard, and how female students can lay the foundations for later activism and governments after college.
The Harvard Crimson: How did your time at Harvard shape who you are today, and did that inform the basis for what you went on to do after college?
ARF: Harvard really inspired my interest in advocacy and politics because I grew up in New Mexico and it was a big culture shock to go from rural southern New Mexico to Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I got on campus, all of the ways that Harvard could be more to inclusive to students like me, students who were maybe not traditional Harvard students in 2006, made me interested in trying to change campus for the better, and I became invested in student government. I learned the nuts and bolts of advocacy, inspiring in me a desire to go into politics and government to look at other issues on a broad scale that I was passionate about changing.
THC: You were the first Latina president of the UC, and it’s been more than a decade since then. How the UC changed during your time then?
ARF: I was looking into the leadership of the UC and was shocked and delighted to see two women leading it, and that the former president was also a woman. When I entered the UC in 2006, it was a much smaller organization: There were around 30 of us, majority men, and majority white men. There were very few women, so much so that there were some Crimson articles about how we broke records that year and we had about six women. That is not a lot.
When I decided to pursue becoming UC president, I wanted to make it bigger, easier to participate in, more transparent to students, more diverse and reflective of student interests on campus. From what I can tell, it looks more diverse on its face. I think it is a more welcoming environment than when I entered it.
THC: A reporter once asked you about reporting on a Latina agenda, and how you were struck by that question — do you still get those kinds of questions and did you get that kind of question when you were working in the White House, even thereafter?
ARF: What I tried to describe in my chapter [of “Yes We Can”] is I did have this discomfort. And what I have gotten used to in my career is almost always brought up now, it was brought up when I was interviewing to work in the Obama administration, it was brought up in the Department of Homeland Security. I see it as an asset that I bring to this experience. Politics and government are still working on increasing diversity throughout, so I hope that when people read my chapter, they know there is a certain contribution you can bring when you are both out and comfortable with your identity, whether that be racial or gender, whether that be religious.
What I’ve been very lucky to experience is working with professionals that have been dealing with this for decades: They are women of color but also policy experts. I am happy to reach this place, and I hope this book helps other young women who may feel they don’t belong in politics and government. It helps them reach that place even sooner.
THC: What advice would you give to young women who are hoping to enter the political realm, and who might face the same challenges you did?
ARF: There are so many great entry points. At Harvard specifically, they have the IOP, the Dems, the Republicans, the UC, and when you’re on campus, it’s easy to think those activities don’t matter, but what I found throughout my career is skills I gained at Harvard directly apply and made me a better politico, professional, public servant.
Harvard took extracurriculars very seriously, and I assume they still do. And that is honestly amazing career training, so what I would tell any young woman is strive for leadership positions in those organizations: That will be noticed when you apply for jobs. Also, local politics in Cambridge is a key entry point because you never know when that city council member or state senator is going to run for higher office, and you can never get in too early. I would advise to be bold and get out there in the community.