Council To Address Gender Imbalance

UC proposes increasing outreach to women to encourage more candidates

After a contentious hour-long debate last night, the Undergraduate Council passed legislation that puts forward a series of measures to address the gender imbalance on the Council.

The legislation comes in light of this fall’s elections—after which only 12 of the 51 UC members were female—but Council members expressed reservations about the methods that the Council chose to use.

The UC will be required to reach out to Peer Advising Fellows and publicize elections more heavily over women’s group e-mail lists in an effort to increase the number of female candidates. According to Student Relations Committee Chair Ashley M. Fabrizio ’11, the UC is often overlooked as a viable option for those interested in getting involved at Harvard.

But some UC members objected to the tactics the legislation took to create a gender-neutral campaigning process. In discussions with female members and other women leaders across campus over the last month, Council leaders have found that women are often less likely to engage in door-to-door campaigning, seen as the key to winning Yard elections, or are less well received when they do campaign in their Yards.

“Because the election period is so short, you basically have to be a really aggressive go-getter, and to have the nerve to go door-to-door and sell yourself,” UC Secretary and current Vice-Presidential candidate Bonnie Cao ’12 said in an interview last month.

The legislation requires the UC to host a “meet the candidates” night and send out short biographies and platforms of each candidate over district e-mail lists to give each candidate more visibility.

But some representatives opposed the legislation’s emphasis on campaigning, arguing that there is not enough evidence that this is the true cause of any imbalance.

“I think it’s super offensive to say that women are too timid to run,” said Adams House representative Ellen V. Lehman ’11. “It’s very subjective.”

But the UC ultimately passed the legislation, citing the importance of taking some steps to address the long-standing issue.

“This has been a perennial problem. We talked about this my freshman year,” said UC Student Life Chair and current presidential candidate Senan Ebrahim ’12. “We’re not trying to achieve some ideal gender ratio. We just want to give every candidate who runs a level playing field.”

—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at sgarlock@college.harvard.edu.

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