Michelle McCarthy '16

Name: Michelle McCarthy

Hometown: Clifton Park, New York

Year: Junior

Hall: Pasquerilla West

Majors: Political Science and Gender Studies

Meet Michelle McCarthy, an ardent activist, unabashed feminist, and champion of progressive causes at Notre Dame. Those who know Michelle admire her quiet confidence, passion for social change, and diverse collection of backpack buttons.

This semester, Michelle is at the helm of College Democrats as co-president, a club with which she has been heavily involved since her freshman year. She is also an event facilitator at Notre Dame's Gender Relations Center (GRC), a representative in student government’s Gender Issues Department, and a member of Progressive Student Alliance. In the additional free time that she apparently possesses (I am always tempted to search her for a Hermione-esque time turner), Michelle ushers at DPAC and interns with the Joe Bock for U.S. Congress campaign.

As she scooted into the booth across from me admist the dull murmur of pre-quarter-dog-rush LaFun, she greeted me with a smile and said, “So I have sixteen meetings this week…”

Michelle “I have sixteen meetings” McCarthy, you don’t need me to remind you that you’re majorly involved with issue groups at ND. What draws you to leadership positions?

I think one of the greatest things about college is that you get to meet people who are equally passionate about the issues you care about. For me, those involve clubs like College Democrats and my volunteer work with the Gender Relations Center. I don’t go into things with leadership as the end goal; it’s more of a by-product of my passion for these issues.

Any plans to write a controversial and inflammatory Observer Viewpoint? That seems to be the preferred way to gain notoriety on campus these days…

I often have the urge to write angry responses to inflammatory viewpoints, but I usually calm myself down… However, I do love a good Viewpoint War.

What are some of the unique challenges faced by undergraduate women at ND?

There are a lot of great things about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, but I think sometimes it impedes conversations that undergraduates should be having in regards to sexual health, contraception, and consensual sex. Regardless of your religious beliefs, I think everyone would benefit from discussions about these issues. Also, I think we need to address the challenges that women face in regards to perceptions about their sexuality, the dichotomy between being seen as a "prude" or a "slut", and the consequences of those stereotypes.

(I would like to note that this is coming from Michelle the undergraduate woman and not Michelle the GRC Representative. All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official stance of Gender Relations Center.)

Any memorable reactions when you told someone you're majoring in gender studies?

I get a lot of “Why do you need to study that?” I respond by saying that Gender Studies is relevant to so many parts of our lives. Our gender guides the way we move throughout the world. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?  How do the different parts of our identities intersect? You can apply what you learn in Intro to Gender Studies to anything from dating to politics to your favorite TV show.

You interned for Organizing For Action in New York this summer. What did you like and dislike about that experience?

What I really liked about interning for OFA was focusing on specific issues. It wasn’t about this party or that party – it was about working with issues that really matter to me and to so many Americans, such as the minimum wage, comprehensive immigration reform, climate change awareness, and women’s equality. Fun fact: they also taught me the best way to use twitter to advertise events and raise awareness about issues.

I loved OFA, but I will be very happy on Election Day when they stop emailing me 20 times a day…. “Donate $3 today and we’ll fly you out to meet Barack in L.A.!”

Any words of wisdom for fellow students who are interested in political careers?

Find the issues that make you tick and learn as much as you can about them. Don’t be afraid to talk to the people who disagree with you – that’s how you learn and either reevaluate or strengthen your beliefs.

You’re studying abroad in London this spring (with me!) – what are you most looking forward to?

Living in a country that’s as obsessed with tea as I am. And hanging out with Liz Troyer, of course.

Now for some shorties:

First website you read each day?

News updates from Politico, ThinkProgress, and TIME

Seventh-grade screen name?

Monarchbutterfly (Because every girl wants to be a butterfly and royalty)

Book closest to your heart?

Tie between The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Movie you love but the general population hates?

Moulin Rouge!

Famous person who inspires you?

Janelle Monáe.

Wait – who?

She’s a musical artist. I think everyone should listen to her album, The Electric Lady, or AT LEAST just the song "Q.U.E.E.N." which has this awesome life motto:  “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.” Also her albums all link together with this concept of Monáe's time-traveling, oppression-fighting, android alter-ego. Multiple concept albums about social justice in a dystopian, cyberpunk future? Hell yes.

Favorite SNL skit?

Hillary Clinton v. Sarah Palin (2012), starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

On a scale of zen to utterly panicked, how worried are you about Ebola?

Eh… 3

(Three, she says, after I try to make a creative departure from the classic scale of one to ten.)

Finally, what would you do if you knew you could not fail?

How old do you have to be to run for Senate?

(Note: Michelle is aware that a person must be at least 30 years old to run for Senate. I aim to preserve both her witty response and her status as a Poli-sci nerd.)

Thanks for the interview, Michelle! Particularly for humoring the potpourri of questions I threw at you when you have 800 other things to be doing right now. Keep up the good work championing women’s issues at ND. And remember HCND as your first interviewer when you’re running for Senate!

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