In the state of Nevada, female lawmakers have seen success in recent years. The Nevada Legislature saw female lawmakers obtain 40 percent of the seats this session, the highest percentage of women in legislatures across the country. However, on campus at the University of Nevada, Reno, female students may be struggling to make the final decision to run for a position within the government of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, according to Hannah Jackson, Speaker Pro Tempore of the current ASUN Senate.
In the 2017 ASUN elections, only 7 women ran for seats in the Senate, compared to 25 men who ran. In addition to this year’s election, there has not been a female ASUN president in over a decade. The last female president was Sarah Ragsdale in 2007.
“ASUN student government is about representing students as a whole and when we have such a gap in the amount of male students and female students who are in elected positions, females do not get as much representation as they possibly could,” said Steven McNeece, ASUN Elections chair. “We are looking at approximately half and half in the student population, but that is not represented in ASUN. The ratio is very different.”
Nicole Flangas was one of the few female students who ran in the last election. She won the senate seat for the College of Liberal Arts and said she doesn’t think the problem is that women on campus are not prepared to run for office, but that there are very few women in ASUN offices for them to look up to and find a mentor in.
“You put your name all over campus and you don’t know what you’re doing unless you ask people who are in the positions, and if it is male dominated, it continues to be male dominated because as a woman, who do you go to,” Flangas said. “Who do you feel comfortable with? It is a repeating process, but we have to break that cycle because the more women we have represented, the better [ASUN senate] president, etc. [we are going to have.] Each time we elect a woman, we come more towards the equilibrium where we should be.”
McNeece said he planned on bringing to campus a program called Elect Her to help women running for ASUN positions with their campaigns and platforms.
Elect Her is a program used in almost 50 colleges and universities across the nation that offers day-long workshops to help encourage women to get involved in their student governments. During the workshops, students are taught about why it is important to have women in student government and then are given guidance on their platforms and support networks.
In addition to implementing programs like Elect Her, Jackson said she would like to see female lawmakers in local government come to advise students running for positions in ASUN.
“I want to get people in that interested group to actually move into the group that is going to be running for office and have their name on the ballot,” Jackson said. “To be able to see women like you in those positions is really helpful and that’s why I think bringing those people to campus from the state legislature or city council to talk about that experience would be really beneficial.”
McNeece said he plans on passing the idea of implementing Elect Her or a similar program down to the next year’s Elections Commission.
“It is the first step,” McNeece said. “The thing with [Elect Her] is it only helps females who have already filed to run, it does not address the issue that not as many females are filing. We need to figure a way we can get that information out so that all students are aware of our info sessions, so more females can go to those and get them interested in running in general.”
The recent ASUN election was plagued with questions of diversity after several racially insensitive tweets surfaced from 2013 and 2014, sent by ASUN President-elect Noah Teixeira. After getting elected, Teixeira promised to create an Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion position.
Both Flangas and Jackson said they want to focus on the inclusion of women in ASUN government. Both agreed that getting more women to run for office is about changing the culture of running for offices within government.
“This is not only a trend in student government at our university or student government in general, but nationally women are not running for office,” Jackson said. “I think it is a huge problem. I don’t think it is that women are not ready, I think it is just about how they think they are not qualified. Even if they are interested I think it is harder for women to throw themselves into something like this, and say I have the experience for this, it takes encouragement from other people or having experience within the government.”
Jackson said out of the seven female students who ran in the ASUN Senate race, six won, showing that the issue isn’t that females are not supported once they decide to run.
“I think we need to keep pushing women to run for things, the problem is not that once you get in there, people don’t support you, it is just that [women] are not choosing to run in the first place,” Flangas said. “Once you chose to run, I think it is a really liberating moment. You are out there and you are meeting people and I think that first step is crucial and after we start changing that cycle of women not even deciding to run, but actually running, that will change the proportions in every election.”