Students organize female write-in campaign for Student Assembly positions

by Debora Hyemin Han | 4/17/17 2:55am

The current of gender disparity in government, which has long been experienced nationally and locally, is being felt on Dartmouth’s campus as springtime elections open tonight. In spite of the growing awareness of this imbalance as well as concerted efforts to create equal opportunities for student leadership on campus, the candidate pool remains markedly male. There is one woman candidate for each of the two sections of Student Assembly — president and vice president, and house senate — and this is the third year in a row in which there are are no female candidates for SA president, both on the ballot or as a write-in.

Elections planning and advisory committee chair Derek Whang ’17 said whether the gender disparity in student leadership overall is “the rule or the exception” is yet to be seen, given the recent implementation of the house senate. He added that this year’s candidate pool was also exceptionally large in comparison to previous years.

According to current SA vice president Sally Portman ’17, the house senate was first implemented in fall 2016 in an effort to integrate the housing system into student leadership, as well as to move away from what current SA president Nick Harrington ’17 called a “fundamentally flawed model for student government” in a post on the SA website last summer. In the same post Harrington wrote that, in the past, the SA president and vice president had no obligation to form an inclusive and accountable assembly, and instead had the license to appoint personnel at their discretion, which resulted in an organization that did not have “real representation” of the student body.

“[This kind of government] breeds nepotism, patronage and prevents a diversity of ideas from ever entering the discussion,” Harrington said in the online letter.

Lara Balick ’19 believes that while the intent behind the change was to diversify student representation in SA, it has not yielded a more diverse candidate pool this year. She referred to this year’s pool with a majority of male candidates, many of whom are of the same race.

“When you look at this list of people who are running, it’s so obvious to me that it’s all the same kind of people,” she said.

The gender disparity prompted Balick to organize a write-in campaign with four female house senate candidates. Balick said she believes that one reason SA lacks diversity is because potential candidates for future leadership typically come from the same social circles as members of the current. She added that the process of running in and of itself is intimidating, and that when women or minorities see a lack of representation in these positions, they are discouraged from running. She also spoke about women’s tendencies to “sell themselves short,” considering themselves less qualified and able to take on leadership positions than men. 

Carolyn Zhou ’19, a write-in candidate for house senate, echoed this opinion, saying that the high number of men running for positions confirms a “pattern of confidence” that men often have and women sometimes lack. The other three write-in candidates are Jarely Lopez '19, Alma Wang '18 and Monik Walters '19.

Sydney Walter ’18, a candidate for vice president, said that during her involvement with SA, she saw a consistent lack of women running for leadership positions. When she found that there were no women on the ballot again this year, she knew she needed to run. She said that regardless of the outcome, she will bring a different perspective to the debate.

“Even if I don’t win … at least I’ll be sitting at the debate talking about things that maybe other people on that panel of potential leaders might not be thinking about,” Walter said.

Nicole Beckman ’20, the only woman running for a position on the separate election of Committee on Standards and Organizational Adjudication Committee, said that she sees this gender disparity in federal and state governments as well, and that it is “interesting and discouraging to see the drop-off as age increases.” In terms of Dartmouth’s Student Assembly, she said that it is important to be cognizant of the implications of a majority male leadership.

Walter said that while similar kinds of people running for a position doesn’t necessarily mean that their thoughts and opinions will be the same, she does believe it is important to bring in people that have different life experiences and are from different parts of campus. She said that she and her running mate Garrison Roe ’18 are running with the understanding that student leadership “seems off limits to people [who] are marginalized at Dartmouth,” and that they want to create access to student government and administrative decisions for these people.

Balick said she believes more could be done to diversify the candidate pool, especially by targeting women and people of color and reaching out to them specifically to run.

“I think a broad blitz to all of campus is not enough, because that’s what’s got us to where we are now,” she said.

Whang, however, said that he believes it is EPAC’s responsibility to maintain the same level of advertising to everyone, given the organization’s stated mission of “free and fair elections.” Rather than changing the outreach methods, he said he believes that it should be the organic interest in the organization that spurs people to run. He said that SA has room to improve its visibility and activity on campus to generate this excitement, which he believes will elicit a diverse group of candidates.

“The two best ways to exercise your right as a student and citizen of Dartmouth is to vote and, if you feel strongly about something, to run,” he said.

The debate for Student Assembly president and vice president will occur today. Voting will occur from April 17 at 8:00 p.m. to April 18 at 8:00 p.m. through OrgSync, as well as through physical voting booths in Collis Center and the Class of 1953 Commons, which will be open on April 18 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

Zhou is a staff member of The Dartmouth.