Illustration by Leila Mgaloblishvili, CC ’16
As ever, honoring our dearest Mother Magazine, Bwog presents Blue and White contributor Mariam Elnozahy’s, BC ’16, investigation into CCSC’s demographic misrepresentation.
The Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) is elected by the student body (or the 40 percent who vote) every April. Its 25 members are tasked with representing Columbia College students. They are often invited to closed University functions and meet regularly with administrators to discuss policy changes, the campus climate, and the school community. At the end of every year, the council oversees the allocation of every student’s activity fee to student groups and uses part of the allocation to put on events. CCSC, in short, structurally possesses power and influence. The granting of this power is justified through the collective ritual of elections, which purports to involve all students at Columbia.
When students vote in council elections, they hope to vote for the candidate who best represents them: demographically, ideologically, and with regard to pertinent issues. Skewed demographics prevent the council from representing students adequately in terms of ideology or issues. CCSC’s demographics and Columbia’s demographics have not mirrored each other in recent years. But this year, the disconnect is more stark than ever, and the clearest gap between council demographics and the student body at large is gender. (For the purposes of this piece, the terms “men” and “women” refer to cisgender men and women.)
On April 1st 2015, as this issue went to press, the incoming CCSC executive board was elected. It was 80 percent male (and 100 percent Greek). This is a new trend: if we look at demographics from the past decade, we see that CCSC has, generally speaking, historically been constituted nearly equally of women and men. But the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 classes’ demographic makeup looks different. Columbia College women, who constitute 51 per cent of the student population, made up a little bit more than a third of the 2014-2015 CCSC membership. While they represent 44 percent of the 2015-2016 CCSC, in neither year did CCSC have a single female class president. In 2014-2015, there was no female at-large representative; in 2015-2016, there is just one.
“Confidence and fear”
An important part of the equation is who actually runs in the first place. At an Elections Board information session for the upcoming CCSC and Engineering Student Council (ESC) elections in March, of the 28 individuals in the room, only two prospective female candidates who were new to council came to find out how to get involved. In between bites of the free pizza and cozy banter amongst the individuals in the room (who mostly seemed to know each other already), prospective candidates (all male) inquired about the “perks” of being on Council and the privileges given to those who are elected. Neither of the female prospective candidates asked questions.
According to University Senator Jared Odessky, CC ’15, who has been involved with council for four years, “Confidence and fear play a big role in who decides to run or not run.” His choice of words is telling: a 2014 article in The Atlantic, “The Confidence Gap,” surveys social scientific literature of past decade to locate trend in literature women are less likely to sign up for opportunities than men, who are less likely to doubt themselves. While less likely to independently put themselves out there, women will take on those same responsibilities when asked.
When the time to run came this Spring, 16 women and 28 men ran. What had happened to the 28 to 2 men-to-women ratio of the interest meeting? Odessky observed that there’s “definitely a tokenization factor” in CCSC party formation. Rather than women independently deciding to run for class council or executive board and then forming a party, he said, “Often the people at the helm of a class council party will be white men who have the confidence to run at the head.” They then proceed to “select a vice president who diversifies their ticket,” he says. Odessky ran as president, with a female vice president, his freshman year. For the 2015-2016 academic year, this was only true of one of three classes; for 2014-2015, it was true of nobody. In both years, all of the class presidents were men.
Odessky says that these men “usually try to incorporate at least two women on their ballot.” These women are overwhelmingly class representatives (which constitute 54 percent of positions), rather than president or vice president. The trend prevailed this year: only one of the five candidates for class president was a woman, while nine of the twelve candidates for class representative were women. Correspondingly, out of all the eight candidates for at-large representative positions (which do not run under parties), two were women.
Click here to read more after the jump!