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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / Wisconsin women, graduate school, and the professions
(1980)

Wright, Buff
Chapter 12: Women and student government,   pp. 109-119 ff.


Page 109


12. Women and Student Government
by Buff Wright
"In spite of the fact that there has never been a time in America when
opportunities have been greater, statistics show that college-educated women
are not preparing for or accepting their place in professional ranks or posi-
tions of leadership."' R. Jean Brownlee addressed this comment to the
Ameri-
can Association of University Women in March, 1966. In 1977, the number
of women in leadership positions in American institutions has increased
slightly, but there still are not enough women obtaining the experience
necessary to augment the ranks significantly. College women do not use one
training ground to develop administrative leadership to the extent they coqld;
that is, student governing associations. Student government, which provides
individuals with an opportunity to gain experience at a grass roots level
of
administration, has been shown to influence later vocational success for
men
and women alike.
A 1957 study by Anne L. Minahan provides an evaluation of the rela-
tionship of student membership in campus organizations to post-college com-
munity activism.2 Minahan found a significant difference between student
leaders of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Union and non-
union students in the level of civic participation after graduation. For
in-
stance, the union graduates from 1920-26 were considerably more active in
village, city and state boards and commissions, and in university-related
affairs.3 She also found that the union women in the 1947-50 group had an
employment rate of 51 percent as compared to 14 percent in the non-union
group. The discrepancy was attributed in part to the variance in the number
of children borne: 61.5 percent of the union women had no children; 78.5
percent of the non-union women had from one to three children.4
Even though the study has not been updated, it would seem reasonable
to assume that the basic conclusion holds today: students who participate
in
college student governance are more likely to be the leaders in their com-
munities after graduation.
The absence of women from leadership in coeducational university wide
student organizatons is not necessarily due to overt discrimination. Women
have not asserted themselves - or have felt discouraged from doing so - in
campus student government. With few exceptions, college women have only
sought secretarial positions in coeducational organizations, leaving the
leader-
ship to their male cohorts. The instances of female presidents and male secre-
taries have been few.
The extent to which students have governed themselves and contributed
to policy decisions at institutions of higher learning over the years has
varied
according to the faculty's perception of the students' maturity and ability
to
make wise decisions. When higher education first developed in colonial
America, young male students were considered dependents, therefore, the
faculty enjoyed complete control of the collegiate environment. After the
American Revolution, the predominant faculty opinion was that students were
in the university to be taught, to be disciplined, and to be inspired to
make
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