On college campuses, a gender gap in student government

By Jenna Johnson
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 8:27 AM

More than half of George Washington University's 10,000 undergraduates are women. But the latest candidates for student body president were Kwasi, Joshua, Chris, Phil, Jason, Caleb and John.

All men.

Of the 57 candidates for other student offices in this month's vote, 11 were women.

"It's always that way," said sophomore Amanda Galonek, one of two women who ran for executive vice president against three men. "There are not many of us to really rally together."

For the past decade, women have outpaced men on key measures of college success. They attend college and graduate at higher rates, according to several studies, and they tend to earn higher grades. Yet on many campuses, student government is dominated by men, echoing gender gaps in state and national politics.

At the 50 colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report, less than a third of student presidents are women. Three of 12 major colleges in the Washington area have female student presidents: the University of the District of Columbia, Marymount University and Trinity Washington University, where nearly all students are women.

The American Student Government Association estimates that 40 percent of student presidents nationwide are female, including those at community colleges. The share is believed to be lower at four-year colleges, though precise figures were unavailable.

Getting more women into campus politics in their teens and 20s, advocates say, could bolster their ranks in statehouses and on Capitol Hill. Twelve percent of governors and 17 percent of members of Congress are women.

"All of the reasons why women don't run in college are the same reasons we see nationally," said Kate C. Farrar of the American Association of University Women. "Women still see themselves as outsiders. They don't see themselves as already being at the table."

Farrar organizes how-to-run workshops for college women in an effort, she said, to build a "new culture of who runs and who gets a voice and who gets to make decisions."

People who track student government say the gender gap is often reinforced by fraternities that vote en masse for male candidates. Sometimes, they add, women gravitate to leadership of clubs or causes more in line with their career goals instead of jumping into what they might view as a boys club.

The gender gap is especially notable at Washington area colleges because they play up their location in the nation's capital to attract politically minded students.

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