Twenty-year-old Nicole Skinner (she'll be 21 this April) is changing the world one issue at a time. In Moscow, where she'll graduate from the University of Idaho this spring, Skinner is the president of ASUI, the university's student government organization. She also just spent a good portion of her winter break working with the nonprofit Green Empowerment in Ecuador. But her real headline-maker in 2018 was her effort to oust Idaho Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Moscow) in the wake of Foreman's Statehouse tirade in February of last year against Skinner and a group of fellow U of I students. During the incident, which was captured on camera and went viral, Foreman threatened to call the police if the students tried to enter his office. The students had traveled nearly 300 miles from Moscow to participate in a lobbying event at the Capitol. In particular, they were advocating for Planned Parenthood. Foreman's response was to yell, "Abortion is murder!" in their direction.
"I think one of the highlights of this past year was seeing Dan Foreman getting voted out of office," said Skinner, who spoke with Boise Weekly about the past and, more importantly, her hopes for the future.
First off, tell me about your trip to Ecuador.
It's all about implementing sustainable infrastructure, so it was a lot of manual labor, spending most of our mornings digging.
Let's talk about this past political season. I know that you were quite integral in getting U of I students to the polls.
There used to be a polling place on the Moscow campus. And since we were expecting record turnouts for the midterms, we really wanted the [Board of] Latah County Commissioners to keep that polling place open on campus. But that didn't happen.
It's my understanding that you organized transportation to a polling place inside the City of Moscow.
We rented three vans, plus we got a bus donated to our effort, which we put under the Department of Student Involvement. On Election Day we shuttled around 400 students to the polls.
And your biggest takeaway was...
Voting Dan Foreman out office. In a big way, things came full circle. I think a lot of people turned out at the polls, particularly students, to vote against Dan Foreman.
Let's talk about another big change, this time on campus. Athletic Director Rob Spear was fired in the wake of a sexual assault case involving student athletes. Additionally, U of I President Chuck Staben's contract wasn't renewed and he'll be gone at the end of the current school year.
I think for quite a while, the campus felt uncomfortable, especially with so many shifts in leadership. Now, I can tell you that a lot more people are feeling optimistic for the future. We're beginning to see more advocacy from the university. We're really at a turning point. I think the dialogue that we've started has truly started a culture shift.
Do you have a sense of what the climate is like for victims of assault needing to be heard?
It's important to recognize the amazing work being done at the U of I Women's Center. I never want to dismiss that.
But good work has to make its way up the organizational ladder.
Absolutely. And that's where we were having issues. A lot of people down the ladder cared but when an issue went up the ladder, it was halted. I think we've broken through that barrier a bit. I'm sensing a greater advocacy.
Formally or informally?
Well, there are formal mechanisms such as a Student Safety and Wellness Task Force; but a lot of the improvement is informal as well. I think that we showed that if you mess up, if you let someone's life slip through the cracks, then we're going to call you out on it.
To that end, are you proud to be a Vandal?
It was hard to feel that way through the toughest times, but I think we embodied exactly what Vandals are supposed to be: people who stand up for others when it's not easy. I was really proud of that.
Let's talk about life after college. Are you thinking more school, or employment?
I will definitely pursue a higher level of education, but I'm looking for a job right now.
Inside or outside of Idaho?
But you're talking to companies outside of Idaho, right?
I actually toured the New York City office of Twitter.
What was that like?
I was talking to them about their Public Policy Team. It was the coolest office I've ever been in. You wouldn't know that it's in midtown Manhattan except for the fact that there was a tiny Twitter bird on an outside window.
What have the turning points been in your young life?
In my freshman and sophomore years, it was the time I spent working in the Women's Center.
That's not for the faint of heart.
I had to challenge myself. I had a decent surface-level of understanding of gender issues, but I had to put myself in more challenging situations to think critically. I think that has fed my advocacy.
Would I be surprised to see your name on a ballot someday?
Not at all. I can definitely see myself running for office. But right now, I want to get people elected.
And your hopes for 2019?
There were a lot of things in 2018 that taught me that if you do the right thing, good things will happen.