Although 55.1 percent of the undergraduates at the College of William and Mary are female, only four of the 29 elected Student Assembly positions are held by women, and no undergraduate women ran for SA senate this spring.
“I think we’ve done a lot of good this year in the SA, but where we’ve really failed is in outreach,” Secretary of Outreach and former Senate Chair Kendall Lorenzen ’15 said. “I think a lot of people have a bad perception of what the Student Assembly is and how it works, and it doesn’t attract females.”
Currently, the Undergraduate Council holds the largest percentage of elected female members of the SA, with three of the 15 positions held by women for the 2013-14 academic year. In comparison, the University of Virginia — where undergraduate females make up a similar 54.9 percent of campus — has a male to female ratio of 43:57 in its student government.
At the College, more females are involved in the Council than in any other elected branch of the SA, where three of the 15 elected positions are currently held by women.
“A lot of times the females who are interested in student government end up running for Undergraduate [Council],” Lorenzen said.
Others work their way up through unelected positions in the executive branch.
Former Vice President Melanie Levine ’13, for example, began her SA career as an undersecretary.
“I don’t feel disrespect from anybody that I work with or any students, but I can see how a female student might be concerned that if they step into the public spotlight that they might be scrutinized in a way that they can’t handle and that men don’t typically have to be,” Levine said.
Sen. Colin Danly ’15 emphasized the accomplishments of females in the SA. Lorenzen, for example, has one of the highest passing rates of any senator in recent history, according to Danly. Sen. Danielle Waltrip ’13, the only other female senator as of last April, served as chair of the public affairs committee this year. Two of the three females in the Undergraduate Council serve as class presidents.
Still, the College’s SA does not proportionally represent the gender make-up of the College’s undergraduate population. John Marshall professor of government Ronald Rapoport cited the difference in political interest between genders as a possible factor.
“Generally, levels of political interest are lower among women than men,” Rapoport said. “Levels of political knowledge are lower among women than men. Whether that’s true at William and Mary — I don’t know that it is — But if you look at the mass populous, you do find that pretty consistently.”
Chief of Staff Drew Wilke ’15 compared the current female representation to that of the federal government.
“I think it’s a social norm based on how our actual government is. … If you look at America as compared to European countries, there are less females involved in the political system on a federal level.”
Senators tend to recruit their friends to join the SA with them. Lorenzen said one reason behind the lack of female representation in the SA may be due to groups of students running for elected positions together. Former Secretary of Student Rights Emily Wade ’15 expressed a negative opinion of the trend of groups of boys from specific fraternities coming in waves.
“I remember guys getting up in the middle of senate to go sit and talk in a corner and whisper,” Wade said. “And they were all in the same fraternity. It’s insane because they are very exclusive, and they don’t want to talk to outsiders, which means girls.”
Former SA President Curt Mills ’13 touched on the history of the gender disparity in the SA in his speech at the spring 2013 inauguration ceremony.
“Kendall is the first sophomore that I know to chair the senate and the first sophomore girl certainly to chair the senate, which often is the ultimate boy’s club,” Mills said.
Overall, students of the College have demonstrated disinterest with the SA through their 34.7 percent voter participation and only 14 students competing for the 12 senate positions. Danly emphasized he would rather work with males who wanted these positions than females who did not.
Next year, Lorenzen plans on meeting with as many student organizations as possible to increase awareness of the SA.
“I think it’s important to have as much diversity as possible so that people’s voices really do get heard, and then also I think that everyone brings in a different perspective and comes from different areas of campus,” Lorenzen said. “It’s not just more females that we want in the Student Assembly, we want people from more cultural organizations as well.”