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PISCATAWAY, NJ–Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn't hold back on what she believes ails American politics when she sat down with the Director of the Rutgers Eagleton Insitute of Politics on March 29.
During the hour-long conversation with Dr. Ruth Mandel, Clinton touched on many topics such as her role as a woman in politics, the hyper-partisanship in government, and why she doesn’t plan on leaving public life any time soon.
“The election was pretty traumatic,” Clinton said, referring to her November 2016 loss to Donald Trump in the US Presidential election. “But I am really committed to speaking out and doing what I can to have a voice in the debate about where our country is going.”
Trump, however, did not dominate the conversation, with Clinton only mentioning the President a few times during the event. Instead Clinton spoke candidly about herself and her experiences during the discussion.
“Mostly people in the press, for whatever reason, [said] ‘go away, go away,’” Clinton said. “They never said that to any man who was not elected.”
Clinton spoke at length about being a woman in politics, saying that sexism is difficult to tease out when it comes to the already divisive nature of politics.
“You’ve all heard people say, ‘Well, I’d vote for a woman, just not that woman,’” Clinton said. “And since I’m often that woman, I do hear that.”
“I’ve always thought that I am a kind of Rorschach test for people who are trying to make sense not just of me personally, but of women’s roles and women’s expanded opportunities in not only America but around the world,” Clinton said.
The crowd was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Clinton's presence, giving her a standing ovation at the end of the event.
“I think she opened a lot of our eyes about things that we hadn’t really thought about,” said Rutgers sophomore Ashini Dias. “A lot of people think it was just the 2016 election but there’s much more to it than just that.”
Dias and others in the audience said that Clinton's talk imparted a message of unity.
“We need to come together to work, regardless of what side you are on,” Dias said. “If we’re not happy with things, we need to put aside our differences and come together and make the change that we want to see.”
“I didn’t know what the speech was going to be going in,” said Rutgers senior Jessica Bridges. “My worry was that it was just going to be a whole bunch of ‘well, I lost,’ but instead she focused a lot on unity and bringing people together and how Republicans aren’t the enemy.”
According to records obtained by New Brunswick Today, Clinton received a $25,000 speaking fee in addition to a reimbursement of travel expenses up to $1,000.
Many observers criticized Clinton for accepting payment to speak at the university, but a Clinton spokesperson told NBC News that Clinton plans to donate the speaking fee.
The event was moved to the Rutgers Athletic Center from the College Avenue Gym after an online outcry from individuals who were not able to obtain tickets. Even in the larger venue, there was a waitlist for the event and it was also broadcast live on Facebook.
Despite the sold-out arena, Clinton still has her detractors at Rutgers and elsewhere in New Jersey.
The Rutgers College Republicans issued a statement on Twitter calling Clinton’s invitation to speak “an act of hypocrisy,” citing the student-led protests that led to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pulling out of an argreement to speak at the university's 2014 commencement.
According to NBC News, a New Jersey-based organization that supports US Senator Bernie Sanders canceled a planned protest of the event. The protest sparked a backlash from Clinton allies, which prompted a top Sanders’ adviser to condemn the group.
Despite the challenges she has faced, Clinton told the audience getting involved in politics is worth the trouble.
“You will, unfortunately, face all kinds of attacks,” Clinton said. “But it’s worth it to go out there to advocate for what you believe, to be the person trying to make the change you want to see.”