Editor’s Note: This article about a Neag School student being elected to a town council originally appeared in The Daily Campus.
UConn’s Kaitlynn Styles was recently elected to Wolcott’s Town Council. Styles is a fifth-semester history major with minors in political science and American studies, and is also in secondary education with a history concentration in the Neag School of Education.
Styles said one of the biggest motivators for running was her age. She said that at 20, she is not too far removed from high school and the obstacles she faced back then.
“A lot of the folks in our town who are big political leaders are at least 50 years old. Voter efficacy for young voters in our town was very poor and still is. A lot of students, especially, felt like they weren’t being listened to or heard,” Styles said over Zoom. “I thought, ‘what’s a better way to make sure that young voters and young constituents are represented than getting one into the council or just shoehorning my way in and being the voice at the table?”
Styles is very passionate about social equity and movements like Black Lives Matter. She said she wants to be a voice for the marginalized communities in her town as this type of person has been missing for a long time.
“This town really needs someone who is willing to go to bat for folks who are Black, Latinx, disabled, queer and who belong to religious minorities,” Styles said. “We really needed someone who was willing to be a voice at the table, or at least provide an ‘in’ for folks who feel like they haven’t been listened to, they haven’t been represented, they’ve been pushed to the backburner and made to feel unimportant.”
“I wanted to make sure I could get someone on the council who was willing to fight for folks who feel like they haven’t had a fighter before,” Styles said.
Styles said she did a significant amount of campaigning via social media because she feels her generation understands the power and reach of the medium, which can be more effective than traditional canvassing or door-knocking.
“I want people to be able to do research on their own and figure out what they like or don’t like, who they want or don’t want to vote for on their own,” Styles said. “I put myself out there on social media, especially community Facebook groups and I would rapid fire around once a week.”
The responses in the Facebook groups were half and half, said Styles. The main concerns about her running were her political party and her young age. They were concerned about her qualifications and her knowledge of the political system as a whole.
“One of the biggest things was my party affiliation. I am a Democrat, and I am a more progressive Democrat, so a lot of folks were resistant to that, which is fine,” Styles said. “The other thing was my youth and some people brought up valid questions with my age. Not all of the criticism was full of vitriol and nastiness, some of it was constructive which I really appreciated.”
Taking Care of Business
Every other week, Styles will have to be back in Wolcott for chamber meetings, around an hour drive from UConn, and many of her priorities will have to shift to constituents and council communication. She said she has also changed her upcoming spring semester schedule to fit in her major obligations.
“So, there are almost weekly meetings, I have to really keep up with town concerns, answering emails, talking to constituents, keeping up with the readings, making sure I’m very familiar with anything that’s going on and even if I have a question, I have to ask it in a timely manner,” Styles said.
“I hope to inspire other students to become politically engaged and understand their important role in society, especially those from underrepresented communities.”
– Kaitlynn Styles, Neag School education student
Styles said she feels Wolcott’s small political scene will provide her with the opportunity to ask questions and receive any help she needs. She is confident in the guidance of more experienced members of the council and knows despite her inexperience, she can grow with her fellow politicians. She said she can utilize her many department affiliations at UConn to help her succeed.
“The thing that’s really great about politics, and I hope it remains true, is that when I go to town council meetings, even if I’m sitting next to someone I vehemently disagree with, I’m going to be able to listen to them, learn from them, lean over and ask, what is this person talking about?” Styles said.
Styles’ family was supportive of her decision to run for a position on town council, but they knew it was a massive undertaking, Styles said. She also credits her boyfriend and her friends, at UConn and back in Wolcott. She said campaigning has brought her closer to her local community, and she has found support in unlikely places.
“I had folks who I hadn’t talked to in a long time in my corner, and it was really heartwarming. It made me feel really good. These are the people I’m doing this for—people that I graduated with who are strong, powerful women, healthcare workers, college students who have felt really lonely. Hopefully, now they feel like they have somebody,” Styles said.
Over 800 people in Wolcott, a town with a population around 16,000 as of 2020, voted for Styles. She said this level of support has stuck with her and keeps her motivated to serve her community.
“I can take that with me and run with it, knowing that I have a pretty large chunk of town who voted and want me there,” Styles said. “Even if no one else wants me there, I have a pretty decent amount of folks that I have to make sure I’m looking out for, because they want me to, they asked me to.”
Styles said she is planning on taking this position one day at a time, but her ultimate goal has been to teach history or social studies at a high school or middle school level.
“That is my dream, that is my aspiration, that is what I have been working towards since I was in fifth grade. I have no plans on abandoning that. I hope to take my political experience into the field of education,” Styles said. “I have no idea where this will take me. I have always been very politically involved, I’ve always been very interested in politics.
Despite not truly knowing what the future holds for her, Styles said she is excited and welcomes the unknown.
“I want to see what kind of difference I can make today and tomorrow, and I’ll take it from there,” Styles said.
Styles said she hopes to inspire other students to become politically engaged and understand their important role in society, especially those from underrepresented communities.
“I sincerely hope when students read this, they understand their power. There is a level of power the younger generation has that as the historian, I don’t think we even see it yet. The extreme power we have to move mountains, to do incredible things,” Styles said. “I don’t think I can predict yet the crazy ways we can change the world. Even if it’s just going out to vote, that’s enough to wield your power.”