In late January, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan named College of Saint Benedict senior Ashley Toledano-Solis as one of 32 members of the Young Women’s Cabinet for the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota.
The Young Women’s Initiative is a public/private partnership through the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota with an eye toward achieving equity in opportunities and improving the lives of young Black, Indigenous and women of color. The cabinet is composed of young women leaders from across the state. Toledano-Solis’ appointment is effective through Jan. 2, 2023.
“It is my honor to elevate the leadership of these extraordinary young women from communities across Minnesota,” said Walz in a press release. “The best way to ensure that young women have the opportunities and resources they need to thrive is by asking them directly what we can do to improve their community. I look forward to working with the incredible leaders [on the cabinet] to achieve a better, more equitable Minnesota.”
For Toledano-Solis, a political science major (with minors in Hispanic studies and history) from Bloomington, Minnesota, this was an opportunity that seemed unexpected – and yet one she has for years been preparing for.
Four years ago, when she selected Saint Ben’s, the opportunity that cemented her choice was the Intercultural Leadership, Education and Development (Intercultural LEAD) scholarship she was awarded. The Intercultural LEAD program engages and supports historically underrepresented, high-achieving, first-generation college students who have demonstrated leadership ability and a commitment to intercultural awareness.
Intercultural LEAD scholars at CSB and Saint John’s University travel through their four years in a cohort of 12-15 students. Scholars invest in each other and in the program through retreats, twice-monthly seminars and mentoring between new and returning scholars. Toledano-Solis is also the recipient of the Two Irenes Scholarship and the Diane Malone ’79 Study Abroad Scholarship, both for Bennies participating in the Intercultural LEAD program.
“When I started my political science major, I was pre-law,” Toledano-Solis said. “But as the courses went by, my adviser, (Associate) Professor (Pedro) dos Santos, pointed out that, ‘You’re actually more focused on international relations.’ And he was right.
“My focus really shifted though when I studied abroad in Guatemala and began learning a lot more about domestic violence there. I started to focus on policies. Domestic violence policies here and abroad, immigration policy. … I had never understood what an impact policy can actually have on a community. That’s what I wanted to work on.”
She began by earning a Poder Fellowship through Unidos Minnesota. The Poder Fellows program gives young Latinx adults the support to begin becoming community organizers. Participants work on skills and experiences like running meetings, leading community-centered research, driving voter registration/turnout, building and mobilizing a base and advancing public policy.
“We worked on specific policies and worked with state legislators,” she recalled. “That got me more interested in continuing to work with developing and implementing policy.”
So when her next opportunity came, she was ready – whether she knew it or not.
"Through Intercultural LEAD, we get notifications about a lot of internships and fellowships,” she said. “So when I saw the Young Women’s Initiative notification, I wasn’t sure at first because I still don’t feel like I have a lot of policy background. I still think of myself in international relations. But I brought it up to Professor dos Santos and Professor Jim Read, and they were both like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good opportunity for you.’ ”
Now, as a member of the Young Women’s Cabinet, Toledano-Solis is looking forward to leaning into that opportunity. “We’re divided into sub-committees,” she explained. “And I’m part of the Policy Lead Committee. That’s basically working on the Blueprint for Action.”
The blueprint, which was developed by the Young Women’s Initiative in 2017, highlights 20 recommendations for achieving equity in outcomes, access to equal opportunity, safety and prosperity for all young women in Minnesota.
“Our job on the Policy Lead Committee,” said Toledano-Solis, is to push forward those recommendations and shape them into policies that will help Minnesota thrive and grant every woman an opportunity.”
According to their website, the Young Women’s Cabinet is “comprised of up to 32 young women and youth leaders (ages 16-24) from eight communities across Minnesota.” Those eight communities include: African-American, African immigrant, American Indian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander, Latina, LGBTQ, the disabilities, and Greater Minnesota young women.