Section: Opinion

Student Council lacks diversity, and it’s a problem

Societal pressures on female students a deterrent

Last week during the Student Council working group elections, I became  concerned about the number of women participating in student government at Kenyon. Of the 17 people who ran for the eight positions, only three were women. Additionally, of the four running for Student Council president for next year, none is a woman. And yet, of the 22 people on Student Council this year, the top three positions — VP of academic affairs, VP of student life and president of Student Council — are held by women.  And more than half of the 1,700 students on this campus are women. This new trend of representatives not representing the demographic composition of the student body is surprising. Why is this happening? 

After time spent contemplating and shaking my head, here are my theories: When the competition gets tough, women feel intimidated and get pushed out, and/or women fear the social repercussions of being in a position of power on this campus. Both, in my opinion, are bullshit, though I empathize with both sentiments. 

Competition is incredibly intimidating. Sarah Adrianowycz ’16 (VP of student life) will tell you that even when I ran for president uncontested, I absolutely could not believe I had actually won. I asked her over and over if she was 100 percent sure. I did win, and I wasn’t even running against another person, let alone a man. Thanks to studies examining gendered differences in social settings, it has become clear that women are often conditioned to be more averse to competition than men (see “Gender and Competition,” Annual Review of Economics, May 2011).  Not to mention that given that a Student Council position is elected, it can read as a popularity contest, and thus losing an election can feel like rejection. Why not alter the narrative?  Why not now, and why not here? Let’s be conscious of these social trends and let’s fight against them.

I worry that because of societal expectations, women may consider the social repercussions of this position more than their male counterparts. This is upsetting because the opportunities offered to me, thanks to the experience I have had as Student Council president, are ones that will frame the rest of my professional life. In other words, the repercussions are worth it to me, a woman, just as I believe they would be to anyone of any gender.

I do not mean to vilify men’s positions in student government. I am confident every man on Student Council absolutely deserves to be there. I also do not mean to assume that my theories are correct. Maybe this year is a fluke.

Regardless, we must strive to have a Student Council that is representative of the students on this campus, in gender diversity and beyond. We are all strong, competitive, equal. We are all Kenyon students. Men, if you feel empowered, let’s keep it that way. Women, if you feel intimidated, bare your teeth. There’s no place for suppression on this campus. We have too much work to do. 

Student Council elections will take place from March 21-28. If you are interested in running for a student government position or getting more involved with Student Council, email studentcouncil@kenyon.edu.

Phoebe Roe ’16, president of Student Council, is a psychology major from Pittsburgh. Contact her at roep@kenyon.edu

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