Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat any more Airheads or stuff promise-filled palm cards into our bags, the Student Association elections ground to a halt. Ultimately, students chose sophomore Nicole Capp as the first female SA president in nine years.
This year’s election was unusual, not for the aggressive campaigning and grating cheerfulness of the candidates, but for the result – our new president is notable for her year (sophomore) and sex (not male). While GW students chose a female SA president in the past, there has historically been a dearth of women candidates for SA president. At a school that sometimes feels overwhelmingly populated by females, the lack of women in public leadership positions raises an eyebrow.
In an e-mail exchange, Capp discounted gender as playing a part in her election. “I ran as a student leader with a strong platform and ideas, and prided myself on not being only the ‘woman candidate,'” she wrote.
Capp’s comments parallel those of Drew Gilpin Faust, president-elect of Harvard University. She told reporters, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard. I’m the president of Harvard.” I understand why Faust took pains to highlight the difference, but wonder if her assertion belies na’vet? or just a steadfast devotion to political correctness.
When viewed in light of the tumultuous term of current president Larry Summers, who suggested that women may be innately unsuited to math and science fields, Harvard’s selection of Faust undoubtedly comes under fire. Upon hearing the news that Harvard had chosen a lipstick-applying president, my knee-jerk reaction was to believe that the embarrassed school was making a public apology for Summers.
As a self-proclaimed progressive woman, I am embarrassed that I would ever raise the specter of gender when a qualified female candidate was chosen for any position. However, I believe that women will always be subject to more scrutiny when they are firsts in their field and their qualifications are overshadowed by political correctness or an institution’s need to make a statement.
Similarly, Capp can deflect speculation about the role of gender in her election, but she was the only female candidate running. Surely that speaks volumes about student government and perhaps GW in general.
Whether a public figure pees standing up or sitting down does matter. Prejudices and preconceptions aside, studies have pointed to different gender-based leadership and management styles and to the complexities of male-female communication. Yet as science uncovers reasons of how and why the sexes differ, I imagine that society will work with and past these differences.
In education alone, women now represent nearly half of all college, law and medical students. But across the country, top-ranking university officials are still predominantly men.
Even here at GW, the upper echelons of the administration are filled by a coterie of older gentlemen: President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman, to name a few. These men are certainly qualified for their positions, but the male leadership orientation in Rice Hall and throughout GW points to an underlying campus culture.
There are women in public leadership positions at GW – Susan Phillips, dean of the School of Business and Grae Baxter, executive director of the University Honors Program, spring to mind. However, I can anecdotally report that the majority of my professors have been male.
Nicole Capp is a bright, articulate and driven young woman. There is no reason to question the fact that she was chosen by the students of GW to lead the Student Association based on her innate abilities. Only when these kinds of prestigious achievements become humdrum in a gender-based sense can some kind of equality between the sexes be championed.
When an individual is judged based on credentials and not pantyhose use, then American society – and GW – can claim it has moved past the use of gender as a political tool. Nicole Capp is not the woman president of the Student Association; she is the president of the Student Association.
-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.