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Editorial: Increasing female leadership on the Street

A recent piece published in Nassau Weekly detailed the lack of female officers in the eating clubs. Though the definition of an “officer” varies from club to club, most clubs have a president, vice president, social chair, house manager and treasurer. Less than one third of these positions are currently held by women. Of the 11 eating clubs, only Colonial has a female president, Nassau Weekly reported.

The consequences of gender discrepancies in eating club leadership have serious implications. The imbalance reinforces the current male-dominated culture on the Street, a culture that tolerates overtly sexist event themes, such as “Yoga Hoes and Workout Bros” and “Jedis and Sluts,” and situations that can result in sexual harassment. Some female officers interviewed for the Nassau Weekly piece stressed that they prioritize making the clubs safer spaces for women. This is especially critical in light of the disturbing rates of sexual assault on the Street. Tiger Inn, for example, after being sued in 2008 by an alumna who was sexually assaulted during pickups in 2006, established an appointed position referred to  as “safety czar.” This position is almost always held by a female member — typically the only female in the officer core. Female officers are also important in helping to moderate or prevent overtly sexist events that can occur at Bicker, pickups and parties. One of the most important officer responsibilities is to mitigate the risk of injury, assault or harm to guests and members. An all-male officer corps is not necessarily adept at or concerned with identifying threatening behavior, or representing the interests of all members and guests, particularly females.

Among many factors contributing to the gender discrepancy, women suggest in the article that fraternity membership gives men an advantage in campaigning for officer positions. Fraternities are smaller and more close-knit than sororities, making them a better base of support. Further disadvantaging women, many clubs adhere to a traditional unspoken quota which allows only for certain, often lower-ranking, positions to be held by women. Furthermore, there are double standards for women in clubs. Women are often discounted when they express interest in running, while men are almost always looked upon favorably for seeking leadership roles.

The Board believes that clubs have an interest and an imperative to encourage more women to run for officer positions. When the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership investigated the lack of campus leadership positions held by women, it found stunning gender distortions. One of the report’s suggestions was to implement direct mentorship programs and female-directed leadership encouragement to help reduce this gender discrepancy. The Board suggests that the clubs informally adopt such a mentorship program and that the outgoing officer corps and the graduate boards actively encourage women leaders to run for high officer positions. The Interclub Council and alumni boards should also lead by example by adding more women to their own ranks. In addition, the ICC should more readily publish gender statistics about members and officers.

This inequality could more directly be mitigated by a system that allows for the officer core to appoint particular positions in their succeeding officer core. Another potential solution is for clubs to institute electoral rules that ensure a degree of gender parity. For example, a gender rotating system, where each year, the officer must alternate to another gender or where in a given year the gender of each positions is rotated (i.e., if the president is male, the vice president is female, etc.). Clubs might also look to nations like Argentina, South Africa and Norway and companies across Europe that use quota systems that ensure female representation. Each club should canvass these and other tried tactics to determine how, given its unique context, it might take meaningful action to close the leadership gender gap.

Dissent 

The object of this Editorial is admirable. We entirely agree that it would be wise to increase women leadership on the Street in order to attend more readily to the needs of all club members and guests, particularly with regards to safety and prevention of sexist-themed events. Our sole complaint with the majority lies in its suggestion of a quota system. Quotas would likely be counterproductive in that they tend to stigmatize female officers, do not necessarily ensure that the most qualified person for a given position is elected and ultimately fail to get at the root of the problem. On this ground alone, we dissent.

Signed by Zach Horton ’15, Eve Levin ’14 and Sergio Leos ’17.

Mitchell Johnston ’15 is recused due to his current position as an eating club officer.

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