While over 54 percent of Georgetown students are female and less than half of the student body identifies itself as white, only one out of eight candidates running for Georgetown University Student Association executive office this year is female, and only two identify as members of minority ethnic groups.
The absence of diversity among the tickets drew criticism from some candidates and student groups, who allege that the electoral field does not accurately represent the student body.
Six of the candidates, Ben Weiss (COL ’15), Sam Greco (SFS ’15), Zach Singer (SFS ’15), Dan Silkman (COL ’15), Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Thomas Lloyd (SFS ’15) identify as white males, while Lloyd’s running mate, Jimmy Ramirez (COL ’15), is a Latino male. Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15), the only female in the race, is of Indian descent. Both Ramirez and Jikaria are running for vice president.
Although Jikaria is often reminded of her status as the only female in the candidate field, she maintains that this fact is relatively unimportant compared to other campaign issues.
“It’s definitely something I’m aware of going into the race, and people always bring it up,” Jikaria said. “But I think that the conversation about the issues is much more important than how many girls are running.”
She noted, however, that the lack of female candidates in this year’s GUSA executive contest appears indicative of a larger trend in American political culture.
“I think it’s sad that there’s only one girl running. I think that there definitely is a dearth of women leaders in student government positions in general in America,” Jikaria said. “I don’t necessarily have a solution for that. I think that it’s just important for young girls to see other women running, and that will inspire them.”
Tezel, Jikaria’s running mate, expressed disappointment that GUSA leadership failed to adequately represent the diversity characteristic of the student body.
“I think it’s always important that we see GUSA races that actually represent the student body, and part of that is, both from a racial and ethnic as well as gender side, it is important that we continue to have a diverse group run for GUSA,” Tezel said. “If we’re not continually looking at how we’re engaging with all the faces of Georgetown, then that’s something we’ll start to lose in a body that’s supposed to be representative of the whole student body.”
Lloyd, the race’s only openly gay candidate and the president of GU Pride, expressed similar frustration and described the difficult choice many students face regarding the decision to participate in activism for particular groups or causes, rather than becoming involved in student government.
“GUSA has had problems with gender for a very long time, and race and sexual orientation,” Lloyd said. “I think at Georgetown, it’s very difficult to be involved in an affinity group or an advocacy group and be involved in GUSA. I’ve never been involved because I’ve dedicated a lot of my time to Pride, and that’s meant burning some bridges with some administrators, that’s meant engaging in those tough conversations that maybe I don’t want to do if I have to get elected.”
Though neither Weiss and Greco’s ticket nor Singer and Silkman’s ticket include any women or members of minority groups, both teams stressed a dedication to fostering diversity on campus.
“Unfortunately, two individuals can never possibly represent the entire campus community,” Weiss and Greco wrote in a statement. “It has been crucial for us to hear every perspective, speaking with students of all different backgrounds in order to develop a platform and strategy that will best serve the entirety of Georgetown.”
Weiss and Greco’s statement additionally stressed input they received from campus groups such as the Women’s Center, the Georgetown chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Sexual Assault Peer Educators program in the development of their platform. However, they maintained the lack of diversity on their ticket was not a disadvantage.
“We will not, however, reduce our staff and supporters to minority tokenism,” the statement said.
Singer and Silkman similarly noted that, while women and minority groups are not represented on their ticket, these groups nevertheless maintain a significant presence in their staff and supporters.
“One of the top reasons Dan and I are running is because we know how to break down barriers and bring people together,” Singer and Silkman wrote in a statement. “That spirit is reflected in our campaign team, a group of men and women of diverse backgrounds who bring a wealth of unique experiences to our campaign.”
Last year’s election featured two female candidates for GUSA executive office, Shavonnia Corbin Johnson (SFS ’14), who ran for president, and Maggie Cleary (COL ’14), who ran for vice president. While both of their teams ultimately lost to current executives Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) and Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14), Cleary and running mate Jack Appelbuam (COL ’14) came in a close second.
“I’m disappointed to see that just one of the eight GUSA executive tickets this year has a female candidate,” Cleary said. “That being said, this is not particularly unusual within Georgetown or within our country as a whole.”
According to Cleary, women may be hesitant to run due to concerns about qualifications.
“The reason we don’t have more women on tickets is not because more women aren’t qualified, but instead because they don’t believe themselves to be qualified,” Cleary added.
In 2012, however, the winning ticket featured two women, Clara Gustafson (SFS ’13) and Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ’13). During that election, five of the seven tickets included at least one female candidate, and two featured openly gay students.
Kohnert-Yount expressed a desire for an increasingly diverse field but stressed the necessity that all candidates seek to represent minority groups.
“I would of course love to see more female candidates, just as I would love to see more candidates with disabilities or transgender candidates or candidates who identify as working class or first-generation college students,” Kohnert-Yount said. “But I think less important than a candidate’s identity is their commitment to serve all the students of Georgetown across the spectrum of gender identity, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic identity, socioeconomic status, ability and so forth.”
Of this year’s batch of candidates, four have experience in the GUSA senate. Eleven of the 27 current GUSA senators are female.
Chandini Jha (COL ’16), a deputy chief of staff and a former senator, coordinated Elect Her, a conference to encourage women to run for student government office, in September, after Cleary ran an iteration last April.
Jha said she does not believe the GUSA executive is institutionally male dominated.
“I don’t think the issue is the institution, but rather the way the institution has been in the past, in the sense that a lot of people see GUSA as something that is kind of male-dominated, and especially looking at the hard numbers in the Senate, we’ve always struggled to increase women’s representation because they’re a very underrepresented community in the senate,” she said.
Alyssa Peterson (COL ’14), also a deputy chief of staff, said the absence of women on this year’s executive tickets reflects the candidates’ priorities.
“You have a case where you have all-male heads of the ticket, but you’re making policy choices when you select your VP,” Peterson said. “When you pick a man, obviously there are a variety of factors why VPs are chosen, but when you do reach out to a man, you show that reaching out to females and representing us as a group isn’t necessarily one of your top priorities.”
The problem may also lie in how GUSA is perceived.
“My freshman year, GUSA was described to me as an old boys’ club, and just those words made it seem like an institution that was almost difficult to get into to and that mentality really needs to change. In order to have a student association that’s really representative of your student body, you need to have more females involved,” GUSA Director of Student Advocacy Office Michelle Mohr (COL ’15) said.
The idea of GUSA as a “boys’ club” can also lead to speculation about the women who do participate.
“I think that mindset also leads to the thinking that women who are involved are more cutthroat or of a very aggressive nature, which is often a characteristic given to women who are in leadership roles, that somehow they’re more aggressive than the standard female, if there is such a thing,” GUSA Freshman Outreach Coordinator Makaiah Mohler (COL ’16) said.
Nonetheless, Mohr said she does not feel like a victim of prejudice on the basis of her gender.
“The current cabinet does have more males than females, but there is a great sense of respect within the cabinet. I haven’t felt slighted at all by the fact that I am a female, and I think it speaks very highly to the individuals who are in the cabinet,” Mohr said.
Ultimately, some candidates expressed frustration at being categorized based solely on their gender or other characteristics. Ramirez, running with Lloyd, noted that although his is an all-male ticket, it nevertheless represents many other forms of diversity.
“I’m frustrated that, because we’re both males, we’re typecast,” Ramirez said. “I’m proud to be part of a ticket that includes Thomas Lloyd, and I’m proud to have the vantage point that I have, but I’m not proud that there is one woman running in the race.”
Hoya Staff Writer Jennifer Ding contributed reporting.