Gravity of Senate Gender Balance Denied

Dickinson College’s Student Senate has an underrepresentation of women for the 2019-2020 academic year. 57 percent of the student body are women and 43 percent are men, according to the Dickinson College Website. Only 15 of the Senate’s 36 members are women and just two of the eight members of the executive board are women. However, this split is not as pronounced in the first-year and sophomore classes, the senators for which are even spread between men and women. 

Senators Emily Ibañez Arroyo ’23 and Nadia Shahab Diaz ’21 said that Student Senate President Kevin Ssonko ’20 acknowledged the problem at a retreat at the beginning of the year. Shahab Diaz said that “despite concerns the exec board and president asserted early on that they were aware that it is an issue.” Ssonko explained, “the gender imbalance is a problem. We wish it could be better. Recruitment for senate is always tough in the beginning of the year because you have to recruit the majority of the senate in the first week.”

Women on Senate mostly report that they feel comfortable speaking up however. Jasmine Jia ’22 said “the fact that there are less women make our voices more important, more heard.” Shahab Diaz said she “felt able to speak up in the Senate from the beginning” and said that it got easier “since becoming more familiar with parliamentary procedure.” Ibañez Arroyo said that only a few women routinely speak up in meetings, though, and Shea Player ’22 said that women participate less in smaller groups. “It’s harder to speak up because sometimes people have dominant personalities,” Player explained. 

Women’s issues are getting attention within the council. Shahab Diaz said that Senate Chief of Staff, Jackson Ohlsen-Johnson ’22 introduced a resolution to put feminine hygiene products in bathrooms on campus. The resolution is still a work in progress. Shahab Diaz also said that there has been an interest in starting a Title IX working group. 

Many of the female senators also noted the impact of current and former senators, both male and female, on their decisions to both run for senate remain involved. Jia said she “ was on [Public Relations] committee and the chair of that was a woman. She encouraged me to run and taught me how to run a committee. She’s the reason that I’m the chair.” Elaina Clancy ’22 said “Sarah Nash ’19 stood out for me my first year because she had diverse talents and sat on exec board. She connected with lots of people.” Player said that she admired Shahab Diaz, who has served on the Academic Initiatives Committee and the All-College Academic Programs and Standards committee, because “she speaks up and is willing to challenge others.” Shahab Diaz noted her appreciation for Chris Jones ’19, as during her “freshman and sophomore years he was president. I really admired his leadership and how he helped create a functional and productive environment,” she said.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, the body passed six resolutions, three of which were drafted by women, with one written entirely be a woman, and another with a woman as the co-author. In the 2017-2018 academic year, Senate passed a total of 13 resolutions, six of which were drafted in some way by women, with three written entirely by women. 

Senators are looking for ways to encouraged women to run for the Senate and participate more actively. Jia said, “maybe women don’t want to do politics, but Student Senate is more about student life than politics.” Jia is chair of the Public Relations committee and is starting a senator of the week program. “We are going to post on Instagram about what people are doing. It’ll show that female students, and all students, not just females, are here and can make change,” Jia said. Player said “I’m interested in starting a Women in Student Senate group or caucus to maybe meet once a month. It could be way to help encourage women to speak up.” Ibañez Arroyo said it was important for the Senate to create a space for people of color and minorities to speak up.

Olivia Shea ’20, President of Kappa Alpha Theta, said “I believe that with the schools ratio of 60:40 women to men there needs to be that reflected in the student senate. I believe that there are many women involved in leadership positions in clubs and organizations but there needs to be a push to women in senate.”