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Miami women take the lead

Evaluating leadership roles on campus

By Sarah Emery, For The Miami Student

Since the first women received their bachelor's degrees at Miami University 114 years ago, female students have become an influential aspect of Miami's campus community. Female students now make up over half of Miami's student body and are active throughout campus, despite facing many challenges when pursuing leadership positions.

"In future years, when man's resistance has been worn thin, the women of Miami University will sneak past our carefully laid barriers and run things according to plans outlined in The Ladies' Home Journal." This was the opinion of The Miami Student in an article covering the disqualification of all women running for Student Senate in 1925.

Fortunately for women at Miami, there have been great strides over the past 89 years, including graduates becoming Congresswomen at both the state and federal levels. Still, Miami has never had a long-term female president and has rarely, if ever, elected a woman as president of Associated Student Government (ASG) or other leading organizations on campus. In fact, according to Valerie Hodge, a University Ambassador and the wife of Miami President David Hodge, in the nine years that she has been at Miami, she has never seen a female ASG President; the most recent female president was Erin O'Donnell in 1996.

The number of women in leadership positions across campus organizations has grown significantly over the years, but some of the most well known organizations on campus, including ASG, are still predominantly male. In the most recent On-Campus Senator election, women were elected to only nine of the 25 positions, despite making up almost 52 percent of the student body.

"Studies show that women on college campuses tend to run for positions such as Vice President or Secretary because they do not feel as qualified as their male opponents, even if they are," Colleen Bunn, assistant director of Residence Life and adviser of the student organization F WORD (Feminists Working on Real Democracy), said.

One such study, from Civic Youth, states that a woman's personal sense of leadership potential falls during the college years, while that of men rises, factors that might explain why women make up less than 20 percent of Congress and 18 percent of city mayors.

While other universities in Ohio, including the University of Cincinnati and Wright State University, have well-established training opportunities for women interested in leadership, Miami has only recently begun this process.

Last spring, M.I.A.M.I. Women, or the Miami Initiative for Advancing, Mentoring and Investing in Women, hosted the inaugural Women in Leadership Symposium, a conference that included programs such as "I Was Here: Making Our Mark on the World through Leadership" and a keynote address by Academy Award winner Geena Davis.

"We have been looking for ways to involve women alumni, especially here at Miami," Hodge said. "We want to help them advance their careers and we want them to come back and mentor [young women] and become more involved with the university … seeing women faculty and alumni in leadership."

Hodge also acts as co-chair of the M.I.A.M.I. Women Steering Committee. She said she hopes the Women in Leadership Symposium will help women gain the confidence to run for and win leadership positions, a task that she feels can be challenging for women.

"It only takes one woman to spark a movement here," Rebecca Clark, junior and co-president of F WORD, said.

Currently, women hold more positions than men on the Executive Boards and Cabinets of ASG, Residence Hall Association (RHA) and Miami Activities and Programming (MAP), a promising sign for the future of women in leadership at Miami.

Clark noted that it is terrifying to break the stigma attached to women leaders as being bossy or power-hungry, but she said she is confident women will make a greater impact at Miami in future years.

Both Bunn and Jane Goettsch, the director of the Miami University Women's Center, said they hope Miami will be able to host a training session with Elect Her - Campus Women Win, a one-day training session sponsored by the American Association of University Women and Running Start that encourages and trains women to take part in student government.

The current Undergraduate Student Body President at the University of Cincinnati, Christina Beer, and both the President and Vice President of Student Government at Denison University, Meghan Pierce and Haley Jones, respectively, all credit their successful campaigns to their Elect Her training.

Hodge advised students to always keep learning and to volunteer for opportunities as soon as they appear. By volunteering, she said, students can not only tailor experiences to their own time constraints, but they will also gain the respect of others for being involved since the beginning and for having the willingness to step up.

Miami is also in the process of creating a new Living Learning Community (LLC) specifically for women in leadership. Clark said she hopes that this program will not only help inspire the girls in the program to run for office, but that these women will also become an example for their peers and will encourage them to become involved.

Although Clark said she still sometimes doubts her abilities to run an organization, she credits much of her success to older female role models at Miami and her current Executive Board, all of whom provide an invaluable support system that encourages and motivates her.

"I would encourage students to take Sheryl Sandberg's advice: lean in, be active … take chances, be brave and volunteer," Hodge said.

She said she hopes that by embracing a more positive and self-assured mindset, female students can find the inner confidence to run for higher offices and succeed in their leadership aspirations.

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