GW women build pillars of support

A woman has not run for the top spot in the Student Association for two years and has not been elected in three. In SA history, there has only been one female elected president: Carrie Potter, who served in 1998-99.

While females have not shied away from top roles in other organizations, women leadership in the largest students groups do not reflect the demographics of the student body, which is almost 60 percent female.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that by 2008, women will outnumber men in undergraduate and graduate programs 9.2 million to 6.9 million. At GW, women outnumber men 57 percent to 43 percent.

Women lead several of GW’s largest student organizations. Program Board, College Republicans, the Cherry Tree and Residence Hall Association, which has had five female presidents in the last seven years, are all run by women. Hatchet Editor in Chief-elect Kate Stepan is a woman, being the first to take the reins since 1998-99.

But some think these are exceptions. Many other notable groups on campus are headed by men with a female supporting cast, including the College Democrats, Black Student Union, Indian Student Association, South Asian Society and WRGW. PB will join this trend next year with a male executive chair and female vice chair.

“When I came here I was surprised to hear that there had only been one female president,” said SA president-elect Phil Robinson, who now heads the BSU. “That has something to say in itself.”

Senior Shannon Flaherty, executive chair of the GW College Republicans, said women are more likely to be found in supporting roles than the head position of GW student groups.

“Women have supportive roles because that is where a lot of work gets done,” she said. “They really like to go after their interests. They don’t care about the title.”

But others do not see it that way.

“It’s a matter of whose demonstrated they are committed and involved to the station, regardless of what their sex is or any other characteristics,” said Jason Cohen, general manager of WRGW.

CR Secretary Mary Ross, a sophomore, is the group’s only female executive board member. But Flaherty said she does not see this as a problem. She said many women still attend the meetings, even though they do not have a title or voting rights.

“Women in the organization haven’t come to me frustrated. They don’t need to deal with the contentious election,” Flaherty said. “They are happy where they are. There should be credit given to that.”

In the SA, there is a large discrepancy in the number of women in elected offices versus appointed positions. Five women serve as vice presidents on the current board of eight appointed cabinet positions, while nine female senators sit in the 29-member Senate.

Senior Noel Frame, president of the Residence Hall Association, said this may be because “women generally don’t like to engage in nasty politics.”
Frame said she felt her college years should be focused on getting things done, rather than coming up with campaign strategies. She said she got involved with the RHA because it was a small, community-based organization where she felt like she was making a difference.

Senior Jade Nester, SA vice president of undergraduate policy, said she thought about running for SA president this year, but several reasons influenced her decision against it.

“I thought about running, but when you are SA president, you don’t have time to do anything else,” she said. “I wanted to keep my internship on the Hill, which is a good transition to the world after college.”

Junior Alice Lingo, SA vice president of community affairs, said a lack of women in top leadership roles goes back to a common stereotype that women feel they need to do it all and not miss anything. Conversely, she said, men are expected to take on the highest and most powerful roles.

“We shouldn’t have to take any shame in not taking on the highest of positions,” Lingo said. “Instead, we have taken this college opportunity to dabble in a multitude of interests and take on secondary leadership roles in order to do so.”

Lingo also agrees with Flaherty that women do not find the title of a position that important.

“We don’t need name recognition. We actually want to find positions which best suit ourselves and in which we can do our best,” she said.

Senior Alicia O’Neil, executive chair of the Program Board, said she does not see the lack of women in high profile positions a gender issue. She attributes the trend to circumstances and students’ personalities.

O’Neil said females in leadership positions at GW help inspire others.

“I specifically remember coming in as a freshman when the SA president was a woman,” she said. “I remember that making an impression on me.”

Nina Mikhalevsky, director of the Elizabeth J. Somers Center and Women’s Leadership Programs, said students are motivated to seek leadership opportunities for a variety of reasons, but often one important factor is being inspired by a role model.

“A campus where talented and accomplished women are clearly visible at the highest levels provides important role models for younger women,” she said.

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