Going to a women’s centered institution, I have had the privilege of being surrounded by amazing women and people who have inspired me to make change on my campus, but I know that isn’t the case on all campuses. Out of 50 colleges ranked by US News & World Report less than a third of the student body presidents were women. That needs to change.
We know that socialization can play a role in impacting the desire to run for an elected position. 66% of women have taken a political science or government class, compared to 72% of men, and 8% of women ran for a student government position, compared to 12% of men.
Why are less women running on their campuses? Most aren’t confident in their skills or ability.
The stats are clear: In order to achieve gender parity, more women need to run for office and be encouraged by others to do so.
In 2012 Georgetown University elected an all-female executive board, a board that was dominated by men since 1969.
Lack of women in campus leadership is an issue that many members of university administration are aware of. In 2011 the president of Princeton University created a committee that researched why women are less likely to be found in leadership roles on campus. They discovered that while women tend to outperform their male counterparts, they are less likely to be involved in class discussions and prefer more “behind the scenes” positions.
Women are more likely to run for an office where they have seen other women. Cecilia Wright, former student body president at Ohio State University said, “I'm not saying that I need all my role models to be female, but it is hard to see yourself in an office, on campus or off, when you've not seen someone else like you in that role.”
A study done at Rutgers University found that “black candidates are more likely to run in places where blacks have previously held political power”. While this is a study of political office specifically, it can be applied to student government as women of color are underrepresented in all aspects of government. Women of color are less likely to run for office, and not because they do not have confidence in their abilities, but because of the fear of gender and racial bias. The topic of intersectionality is extremely important when discussing women in elected office, including student government. Having a multitude of different identities results in having diverse lived experiences that impact how people move through the world and move through their school. Experiences and fears about running for office are valid. Remember that not all women are going to have the same experience, there are layers of identities that impact the experiences they face. As a white woman, when I ran for office, I did not have a fear of racial bias, but that is a valid fear that women of color may have.
It also shouldn’t take a woman of color being in office to advocate for issues that impact women of color. Being in elected office means advocating for everyone to achieve equity on campus. If there is an issue that impacts one part of the school population, it needs to be treated as if it impacts the entire population. Certain communities cannot be put on the back burner while decisions are made that privilege other communities (particularly ones that are already historically privileged).
College is a time when young women are forming their identities, and that is the perfect time to build your political ambition. IGNITE National is an amazing organization working to do just this. They encourage all women to run for office, whether that is political office, or a campus office, IGNITE knows that in order to achieve gender parity there needs to be a pipeline of young women who are ready and able to run for office.
Want more resources? Check out https://www.ignitenational.org/our_story and #DeclareYourAmbition today.