Senate, historically and now, falls short on gender diversity
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 21:02
This article is first in a series on gender-related issues on the Hill.
When Tufts Community Union (TCU) senator Christie Maciejewski last year served as TCU Treasurer at the head of the Senate’s Allocations Board, or ALBO, the budgeting committee had so many male members it was commonly referred to as “all-bro.”
Over multiple semesters on a Senate designed to “represent the interests and desires of the TCU to the faculty,
administration and the Trustees of Tufts University,” Maciejewski had moved up in the ranks of a Senate that is now, and has historically been, a male-dominated body.
The imbalance has been noted by senators both male and female, and all agree that the dearth of women representatives to the body is significant.
TCU Vice President Meredith Goldberg, a senior, said she has taken note of the low numbers of women on the Senate throughout her time there.
“In a school where we’re not a minority by any means, the fact that we are underrepresented says something,” she said.
The number of women on the body varies from year to year. TCU President Wyatt Cadley, a senior, attributed this pattern to fluctuations in voting trends, saying that women tend to be elected in contested elections while men tend to walk on in uncontested elections. He cited last year’s Senate class of 2012 of ten male senators who ran uncontested.
“I think it’s that voters tend to recognize that women tend to be underrepresented, and in turn when they’re presented with a choice, they do tend to vote for the woman candidate,” Cadley said.
Even within the Senate, leadership roles have tended to be filled almost exclusively by male students.
“A lot of people think that Treasurer is a boy thing, money is a boy thing,” Maciejewski said. “But I was the one who wanted it most ... and [I] got it,” she said.
Having a place among the boys wasn’t always comfortable, Maciejewski said.
“I was later told that [the TCU president] didn’t necessarily trust a younger woman in the office, but I think I proved myself competent ... I don’t think every woman would have enjoyed the position I was in.”
Goldberg said the Senate has a long way to go to equalize the gender balance on the body. She is currently the only woman on the Executive Board of seven senators, compared with a mostly even split between men and women on Executive Board in 2009-2010.
“Senate is a body that’s supposed to be approachable to any member of the community,” Goldberg said. “I think its difficult when you walk into an exec meeting [when] I’m not there and it’s just all these men in a room ... it feels like we’re back to the 1950’s sometimes.”
The male-heavy results of the 2011-2012 Senate elections could be attributed to the large number of uncontested elections, Cadley said. This year’s body, however, displayed a noticeable shift towards greater female representation on the body. In last week’s elections to fill four seats, two women were elected to junior and senior Senate seat, bringing the total number of female senators on the body to 14 women of 36 total senators.
“When I look at the freshman and sophomore classes, they really have become more diverse,” Goldberg said. “Senate is becoming more the voice of the students, we’re moving in that direction.”
Maciejewski found that low numbers of women in leadership roles has the effect of discouraging younger women in Senate from stepping up.
“I think one thing that would make women a lot more comfortable is having more women in leadership roles, in front of the room,” Maciejewski said. “I think because there [are] men at the head of Senate, it’s harder — a lot of women may not want to take that lead.”
Goldberg agreed, adding that she might have been more apprehensive of seeking a higher office if she were to run today.
“If I was a freshman this year and I looked at the [Executive Board], I’d be like, ‘there’s one woman on it?’ [and]
I’d think, ‘well maybe this is not where I’ll end up,’” she said.
Maciejewski agreed that it is easier for men to gain and hold leadership positions.
“I think a woman has to be exceptionally qualified to move up, more than men — they really have to have a track record and a loud voice,” she said.