Can a female lead DSG?

A mounted plaque in the Duke Student Government office proudly displays the names of the organization's presidents since it was established in 1967.

Of the 38 names gracing the plaque-which dates up to the year 2002-only seven are the names of women. The last time a female was elected DSG president was in Spring 1999.

"In a campus full of women who were student government presidents in high school, it makes very little sense that we would go eight years with no women elected to the top DSG post," Donna Lisker, director of the Women's Center and co-director of the Baldwin Scholars Program, wrote in an e-mail.

DSG leaders said they hope that the presence of three women on the current executive board of seven members will soon lead to another female in charge.

"There are a lot of girls out there who could run and easily win," said DSG President Paul Slattery, a senior. "It's just getting them to run for this position."

Social sanctions against women campaigning for top positions along with few female role models in the administration may deter undergraduate women from running for DSG president, Lisker said.

"One might argue that we look to our models to see what's possible for us," she added.

But Slattery also said that based on his own experiences interacting with administrators, it might be harder to be a female in the head position.

"A lot of the relationships that I have with administrators developed into friendships that I think would be difficult to develop with a different gender dynamic," he said. "The answer to that is that there needs to be an effort to recruit more female administrators."

Slattery said he has been able to develop casual, "mentee-mentor relationships" with top male administrators, such as Provost Peter Lange and Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki, which have allowed him to be a more effective lobbyist.

"It's helpful to be able to relate personally and casually to someone when you're advocating a policy, particularly because they'll give you sound advice and information about what's going on in University politics," he explained.

Nowicki and Lange said, however, there is no difference in how they work with Slattery and other male student leaders and with female leaders such as Duke University Union President Katelyn Donnelly, a senior. Slattery and several women leaders in DSG said it was possible for a female president to form mentee-mentor relationships with male administrators.

"I believe women can mentor men and men can mentor women-I do not see this as a constraint for student leaders," DSG Senator Kristin Pfeiffer, a senior, wrote in an e-mail. Pfeiffer was the only female to run for the DSG presidency last year.

Women leaders in DSG added that their gender has not posed an obstacle to them, but noted the value of having visible female leaders they could look up to.

"I haven't felt disadvantaged in any way by being a female," said sophomore Lucy McKinstry, vice president for student affairs. "It's just the nice thing about having a [female] role model [in the administration] is that it opens your eyes to the possibilities for yourself."

The Baldwin Scholars Program and the newly-created Women's Mentoring Network are working to encourage undergraduate women to run for key leadership positions on campus, Lisker and McKinstry said.


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