February and March around the University of Nevada, Reno, is election season. Campaign signs litter the lawns on campus, advertising candidates that want to represent their college in the Associated Students of the University of Nevada Senate. However, this election season stands out among past elections due to one thing — more female candidates.
In the 2017 ASUN election, females represented 21 percent of the total candidates running for ASUN Senate — seven female candidates out of 32 total candidates — six of whom won.
This year, the number of female candidates nearly doubled. There are 13 female candidates seeking to represent their college in the ASUN Senate, and at least one female candidate is running for a seat in every college but the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources and Interdisciplinary Programs. However, their representation still remained under 30 percent with a total of 48 candidates running in 2018.
This is also the first year in the 120 year history of ASUN there is an all-female ticket for the President and Vice President positions. Hannah Jackson and Carissa Bradley are running for president and vice president, respectively. Jackson currently serves as the Speaker for the ASUN Senate, and Bradley is the Chief of Staff. They are running unopposed.
Jackson and Bradley helped organize and run ElectHer in November. The ElectHer program is a national workshop brought to different universities across the country to encourage and prepare female students to get involved in student government and other leadership positions. They partnered with the program and the Center for Student Engagement to bring the workshop to UNR.
Amy Koeckes, the Associate Director of the Center for Student Engagement, said she was passionate about bringing equality to the ballot because of decreasing female representation in ASUN.
“Over the past five years, I have been looking at data from student elections and there was a void of women running and winning office,” Koeckes told The Nevada Sagebrush in November.
Just under 70 students attended ElectHer, and seven that did — excluding Jackson and Bradley — decided to run for ASUN in 2018. According to data collected by ElectHer, the only candidate that went into ElectHer without intending to run for Senate and left wanting to, and actually did, was Division of Health Sciences candidate Claudia Feil.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me to see how my perspective would help the fellow students of Nevada,” Feil said. “Before I went to ElectHer, I was an intern for ASUN offices, and I didn’t feel like the students would benefit from my perspective. After, I realized that any perspective that isn’t the norm would be a great representation, and that’s what we need for our students.”
Jackson said that while ElectHer was a successful program, it is just the start. She hopes to bring more programs to campus that will encourage different types of people to run for office.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is how important representation is,” Jackson said. “We started with ElectHer, but that’s really a jumping-off point. After seeing the discrepancy of how little women we have in office, we want to create programs for women of color, other groups on campus like veteran students, student with disabilities, that face unique challenges when it comes to running for office. We want to create more programs like this and have more affinity groups and resources for those people to feel comfortable in order to take on these leadership positions and run for office.”
Koeckes agrees, and said all students should be represented in ASUN.
“The campus is made up of a wide variety of students from different backgrounds, different experiences,” Koeckes said. “Ultimately, if you want representation from the people, which is a true democracy, you want student government to represent that.”
Representation has already begun to expand in the elections. There are multiple candidates that are non-white. There is also a candidate that is gender neutral running for the College of Liberal Arts.
“As a gender neutral Hispanic student, [I hope] to bring issues of underrepresented groups to the campus,” said College of Liberal Arts candidate Natasia Mata in her candidate profile. “While the university has been phenomenal in welcoming all types of students, improvements can still be made and certain issues should still be addressed.”
Jackson said that ElectHer brought together different perspectives and shows how important diversity in student government is.
“Our government should be everyone’s government,” Jackson said. “Everyone has an ownership and what we do and the change we make on campus. You don’t have to be a political science major and you don’t have to be involved in this kind of work to be able to make a difference. It’s actually more valuable that we have these different perspectives all coming together.”
Madeline Purdue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madelinepurdue.