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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Electoral college: How representative is ASWC of Whitman student body?

This article was co-authored by Maren Schiffer.

Sole ASWC presidential candidate Matt Dittrich has a lot in common with his predecessors: he’s male, belongs to a college fraternity and has been involved in student government since his freshman year.

Gender representation in disequilibrium

For each of the last five years, a man has held the position of ASWC president and there were no female candidates for the position in 2010 and 2009. The last woman to serve as ASWC president was Amy Kunkel-Patterson in the 2005-2006 school year according to Leann Adams, assistant director of Student Activities and adviser for ASWC.

For Adams, this trend of male over-representation on ASWC is problematic, though she sees it as symptomatic of gender inequalities that persist far beyond Whitman.

“I’m not sure what the solution is. I’m not happy or comfortable with it but I don’t think there’s a quick fix either. We need more women’s voices at the table, but it’s such a systemic issue that a single person can’t change it.”

Dittrich agrees that the gender imbalance in ASWC is indicative of a much broader issue and   actively tries to foster a diverse environment on ASWC.

“Gender equality must be achieved. We must actively pursue it. In my pursuit, I have found the most effective means to this end has been, quite frankly, asking female peers to run for office, and mentoring female peers once elected,” he said in an e-mail.

Though Executive Council is currently made up of six men and three women, Communications Chair junior Caroline Koehler does not think that the male presence is overpowering.

“Despite the greater number of men than women on Executive Council, I don’t feel like the male voice is more dominant than the female voice. Also, there are more females on ASWC this year then there were last year, and it’s Whitman, so everyone is really respectful of one another,” she said.

Adams hopes that this question will be pushed further in discussion both on ASWC and with the broader Whitman community.

“I’ve heard it brought up as an issue from individual members but I haven’t heard a group conversation about it [on ASWC]. ASWC needs to lead the conversation and bring in lots of outside voices,” she said.

Senior Nina Neff, who served as a senator for the junior class, introduced a resolution last year to improve sexual assault reporting practices on campus, an initiative that she’s not sure would have been introduced from a male member of ASWC.

“All the guys were really supportive of the resolution but I think it took a woman to launch it. Women bring different concerns to the table.”

Neff chose not to continue with her involvement in ASWC this year in order to take a bigger leadership role volunteering at the local women’s shelter. She thinks this choice to do community service over student government is a common trend among women at Whitman.

“ASWC has tended to be a male dominated organization but I don’t think that’s because of institutional sexism. I think a lot of it is our gendered perspective on what civic engagement looks like. Women on campus tend to be more involved in community service and men are more involved in government. Maybe because men have greater accessibility to politics it interests them more,” she said.

A self-selective organization?

Oversight Chair sophomore Margaret Yang describes ASWC as a body where positions are often symbolically passed down to underclassmen friends and sometimes fellow fraternity or sorority members.

“There are so many Greeks in ASWC because when you start advertising and recruiting new candidates you try to get your friends to run, so some positions are kind of inherited,” she said.

Koehler admits that while she did student government in high school, getting involved in ASWC did not occur to her until an upperclassmen sought her out and suggested she run for senate as a first-year.

Neff notes that some level of recruitment is natural.

“It makes sense that people who know what student government looks like would recruit future members of ASWC.”

Mentorship between more- and less-experienced members of ASWC can sustain momentum through multiple years and ensure that there is a qualified applicant each election. But therein lies the issue some members of the student body raise about Whitman’s student government: a single candidate groomed by the previous holder of the position doesn’t exactly spell democracy. To some, the phrase “insider’s club” is more appropriate.

“I wouldn’t say that [ASWC] is an insider’s club, but as young people become accustomed to it, they learn valuable things that would help them in more advanced positions,” said first-year senator Brian Choe.

Sophomore representative Alex Brott echoed these sentiments.

“I don’t see being in ASWC   as a pre-requisite for having a higher-up position in it. But I imagine it would really help to know the limitations and functions of it to know how to get things done,” he said.

Both Darlington and Choe also said that it is not the surface level connections that are helpful in the long term, but rather the advice that upperclassmen have to give.

Out of eight students asked, five said they would prefer our school president or vice-president to have had prior experience in ASWC.

“I would rather vote for someone who has been in ASWC because I’m pretty happy with what ASWC is doing. I don’t see a reason to “rock the boat” and think the more experience a vice-president has, the better,” said first-year Annique Rice.

Adams argues that ASWC’s process of encouraging increased leadership from within is a strength and something that all organizations do at some level.

“There is a deliberate conversation that happens about how young leaders are raised within the organization and I think those conversations have a ton of value. There are always arguments for new blood, but do you want someone as your president who has never held a position in ASWC before?”

However, Neff thinks that there are ways to recruit more strategically, mindful of the need for greater diversity. She notes that international students are another less-represented group on ASWC.

“When ASWC members recruit they should try to deliberately step outside of their comfort zone and look for people not in their social network.”

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