ElectHer to the GUSA Senate
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 01:09
Even with 2016 three years away, the press is buzzing about a potential Hillary Clinton presidential bid. That, and the record number of female U.S. senators coming out of the 2012 elections, gives us a chance to reflect on our progress in female representation here on campus.
Unfortunately, the current state of affairs is lacking. Women make up only 25 percent of the Georgetown University Student Association senate. Despite making up a majority of the student body, women are underrepresented in the organization that is supposed to speak for all students. Last year, only nine out of 28 senators were female, and the year before that, only four were. And this representation problem is not limited to women; despite slow progress, the GUSA senate still does not fully reflect Georgetown’s racial composition.
Speaking as a woman, it is sometimes difficult to connect with an institution that has so few female voices in the room. It undercuts the GUSA senate’s credibility on issues that disproportionately affect women, such as sexual assault. It means that the voice of more than half of campus is not fully heard. It means that, because many GUSA presidents come directly from the senate, it will be difficult for GUSA to have another female president in the immediate future.
How do we solve this problem? The answer is easy in theory: More women need to run for senate seats. And winning doesn’t seem to be the issue; research indicates that both nationally and locally, when women run, they are just as likely as their male counterparts to win their races.
Sadly, well-qualified potential female candidates often don’t run. I’ve found that many female students feel less comfortable with the self-promotional aspects of a campaign. They may feel less qualified and often have fewer role models to look to for guidance. I felt all of these things when I was encouraged by friends to mount an ultimately unsuccessful run for president of College Democrats. It was due only to their generous support and help that I was finally able to put these fears to the side and run.
Recognizing these barriers, members of the GUSA executive and female senators embarked on a new project this year. Building on the great work of the past executive to recruit more diverse candidates, we reached out to female students interested in campus politics and encouraged them to put themselves out there and run. A group of women held an ElectHer conference to give candidates practical skills and connect them with successful female elected officials.
I’m pleased to say that thus far, our efforts have paid off. Almost 50 percent of this year’s senate candidates are women, a historic high. Many of them are younger students that, if elected, can fundamentally transform the composition of the senatorial institution for the better. One of them could be a future student body president. We are poised to have a record number of women elected in this year’s election. And even more importantly, these women can use the lessons they learned and the confidence they gain from this campaign in their pursuit of other leadership opportunities on campus.
For the GUSA senate to be more relevant and responsive to the concerns of students, it needs to include students from all backgrounds and identities. This fight for a more diverse campus leadership is not easy, but we are moving in the right direction, and that in itself is progress.
Alyssa Peterson is senior in the College. She is a deputy chief of staff for the Georgetown University Student Association.