By Amy Koeckes
Associate Director, Student Engagement Outreach
The Associated Students at the University of Nevada (ASUN) student government was founded in 1898 at the University of Nevada, Reno and currently has 24 elected student government positions per academic year. Research conducted through University archives shows, in ASUN’s 100+ year history, the students have elected a woman president only six times. The last time a woman held the president’s office in ASUN was in 2007.
Why is there a lack of women holding leadership positions in undergraduate student government at the University of Nevada, Reno?
To explore this question, I dug into the data for the past six undergraduate student government elections at Nevada. At first glance, the data indicates that women are less likely to win an office within student government. On average women were elected to 37% of the available positions in the past six years.
If we look more closely, for instance, at the 2016 ASUN Elections, out of the 43 students who ran for office, 16 identified as female. Of that number, 9 won an elected office within student government. Just over half (56%) of the women who ran won an office. The data shows women can win, but because fewer run, only 39% of the available elected positions are then held by women.
According to the University of Nevada, Reno’s common data set for Fall 2016, the university had 17,770 undergraduate students and 9,321 or 52% identified as female. So, the real question is, “Why is it that the University has more women attending, but fewer running for elected offices?”
Perhaps the lack of women running is a reflection of the national political landscape. The United States experienced a woman running for the presidency in 2016, but has not yet experienced a woman in the White House. According to Thomas and Wilcox (2014), the first female to win a congressional seat in the United States was Jeanette Rankin of Montana in 1916 four years before females were granted the right to vote through the 19th amendment. As of November 2016, a record number of females 108 (20%) will serve in the 114th U. S. Congress. This is up from 103 in the 113th U. S. Congress. In 100 years, females have gone from 1 congressional seat to 103 yet the office of the presidency still eludes our nation.
The national political landscape could be the reason women are not running for positions, however, I think with encouragement from student affairs professionals we can get more women to run for leadership positions on campus. According to Karabenick (2003) students who engage in help seeking behaviors are more likely to be successful in college. We can make a difference in helping women feel more confident in seeking help and encouragement from others about running for office.
With this encouragement, I believe that more women will run for office, increasing their odds of being elected into student government. I think if we increase the odds of women seen in elected positions in college we will see the national political landscape change as these women will take their experience on-campus out on to the local, state, and national political scene.
References: Karabenick, S. A. (2003). Seeking help in large college classes: A person-centered approach. Contemporary educational psychology, 28(1), 37-58. Manning, Jennifer E. “Membership of the 114th Congress: A Profile.” https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43869.pdf (2016). Manning, Jennifer E. “Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile.” http://www.senate.gov/CRSpubs/0b699eff-adc5-43c4-927e-f63045bdce8e.pdf (2014). Thomas, S., & Wilcox, C. (Eds.). (2014). Women and elective office: Past, present, and future. Oxford University Press, USA. University of Nevada, Reno “Common Data Set”, Fall 2016.