The eight candidates running for Undergraduate Student Government executive office come from diverse backgrounds, but there is one thing they all have in common: They’re all male.
For the fifth year in a row, there are no female candidates on the ballot for USG president. In fact, this year, no women are in the running for either of USG’s top two positions.
The gender imbalance is more striking than in the past — last year there were two female candidates for vice president, including current vice president Ashlie Chan. But it is not entirely out of the ordinary. Although women make up more than half of the current USG executive and program boards, female candidates for the top position are rare.
Since spring 2006, none of the 18 candidates for USG president and only a third of the vice presidential candidates have been female. The last female candidate to run for president was Jessica Lall, who was elected in 2005.
“Personally, I was very surprised to go to the first candidates’ meeting and see that there were no women running for president or vice president,” said presidential candidate Jonathan Munoz-Proulx, a junior majoring in theatre.
Berit Elam, executive director of the Women’s Student Assembly, said that, although women are well-represented in student government and other organizations, they tend to shy away from the top position.
“I’m a little let down by some of the strong female leaders on campus that I know exist because I know they would be great,” Elam said. “Maybe ‘let down’ is too harsh, but it would be nice to see some of the amazing female leaders we have on campus step into that role.”
It’s not that women aren’t involved in USG. Five of the eight members of this year’s executive cabinet are female. But for some reason, they are not pursuing the presidential position.
“Women tend to be more involved in student government, so it’s kind of ironic,” said presidential candidate Dylan Dann, a junior majoring in international relations (global business).
Both women and men involved in USG were quick to say they believed the lack of female executive candidates this year was coincidental and not the result of any sort of bias.
“All you have to do is look at the legislative field and every residential senator that’s running is female, so I do think it’s really a coincidence,” said Andrew Matson, a junior presidential candidate majoring in political science and international relations. “I don’t think there’s any institutional bias.”
Some said the barriers keeping female candidates from running for office might be more individual than institutional.
Presidential candidate Chris Cheng, a junior majoring in international relations, said he had “no insight” into the disparity, adding that he considered female running mates when planning his ticket.
“I could believe there’s a subconscious trend, just because it hasn’t been done [recently],” he said.
The underrepresentation of women in student government is not limited to USC.
In 2006, a study at American University in Washington, D.C. found that women made up 62 percent of the student body but less than a third of the student government.
American University’s Women & Politics Institute created Campaign College, a program designed to encourage and train female college students to run for student government office.
The institute also examined the reasons women don’t seek high political office. Some of those reasons, such as family responsibilities, don’t usually apply to college students, but Ava Lubell, the political director of the institute, said women of all ages are less likely to see themselves as good candidates.
A study by the institute found that men are almost two-thirds more likely than women to see themselves as qualified to run, and a third more likely to consider entering politics.
Lubell said women, unlike men, often need to be encouraged to participate in the political process.
“Women need to be asked to run,” she said. “They’re less likely to perceive themselves as being recruited, so you need to say explicitly, ‘We think you should run.’”
Students involved with USG seemed wary of specifically recruiting women to run for top positions.
“I’m not sure what USG could really do in terms of recruiting people. If someone wants to run, it’s their prerogative to run,” Matson said.
Elam worried such efforts could do more harm than good.
“I think it would have negative results if a female candidate won because she was recruited by USC,” she said.
Some student voters said they were surprised there were no female candidates.
“I think a girl should go for it,” said Rachel Porter, a sophomore majoring in piano performance.
Branche Foston, a junior majoring in communication, hypothesized that women might be choosing not to run because they have other commitments.
“Girls are involved with way more things than guys are,” Foston said.
Some voters, however, did not notice that women were missing from the presidential ballot.
“It didn’t even really occur to me,” said Julien Kacou, a junior majoring in political science and history.
Elam said she is not sure why there isn’t at least one female candidate on any of this year’s tickets.
“As far as running a smart campaign, I don’t know why more candidates didn’t pick women,” Bertram said. “I think it was really intelligent how the [Holden Slusher-Ashlie Chan] campaign was run because it appealed to a broader group of students.”
Matson said the lack of women was “not for lack of trying.”
“Without disclosing names, I can assure you that females were contacted,” he said.
Munoz-Proulx said he thought part of the reason for the gender disparity might be that men choose other men as their running mates.
“Most men, in our society, they’re closer friends with other men,” he said. “So it’s not too surprising that a lot of guys have chosen other guys to run with.”
Matson said he thinks the composition of next year’s USG candidates will be more balanced.
“Next year, it could be all female candidates,” he said. “I’d be willing to wager money that there will be at least one.”
Though there is nothing stopping women from running, Maya Babla, a junior majoring in communication and public diplomacy who ran for vice president last year, said it could be a while before women are consistently running for president.
“I don’t think there’s any barrier to pursuing whatever we want, but I do think it will take time to reach equality in numbers,” Babla said. “I would love to see more female candidates. I think that there is a difference in male and female candidates, in that a woman brings something different to the table.”