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Still Too Few Women, Minorities on Council


As Saturday's Yard gate dedication and the glossy brochures dropped in the houses remind us, it has been 25 years since women were welcomed as equals in Harvard Yard. And yet, if the gender breakdown of this year's Undergraduate Council is any indication, women are still not adequately represented at Harvard.

An admirable drive by council President Lamelle D. Rawlins '99 to recruit more female candidates for the council had little impact, as just 36.1 percent of this year's candidates and 33 percent of winners were women. This constitutes a minor improvement compared with last year's council, which was 28 percent female. There was also minor improvement in the number of Asian-Americans on the Council, although the body still has few members of Hispanic origin. The council's black membership has remained relatively strong. Despite its limited success, we applaud Rawlins' campaign to further diversify the council's candidate pool.

The council's gender and ethnic composition would matter little if all the council did was plan dances. But given the council's power to distribute $120,000 to student groups and--more critically--to represent the student body's voice to the Administration, internal diversity is very important.

Some council members have argued that it does not matter what a student's race or gender is, so long as he or she can represent diverse views. This view is doubly mistaken: first, in the presumption that one's personal background is irrelevant to council decision-making, and second in the idea that there is nothing inherently wrong with the council's being largely composed of white males.

First, members of the council, as in any legislative body, vote on a balance of constituent feedback and conscience. The former has impact in determining a council member's ability to reach out to all his constituents and the latter--which often takes precedence on the council, given the lack of give-and-take with constituents--can be greatly affected by such defining factors as gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Second, it is neither random nor unproblematic that a majority of the council always has been white and male, out of balance with the College's gender and ethnic make-up. There is nothing about being a white male that makes a student a better representative; as such, the skewed proportions are the simple result of the historic marginalization of females and non-white students from the council's business, and from American society as a whole. It will take a concerted effort by the council's leadership to remedy the situation.

Of course, if members of any gender or ethnicity do nothing but show up to vote at the occasional council meeting, their presence is of negligible importance. We therefore encourage all representatives, especially those members newly-elected, to speak out and make their presence known. A council of diverse voices--even if still too few in number--is meaningless if those voices remain silent.

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