Andover Lacks History of Female Student Presidents

Four of this year’s five female candidates for student council president were eliminated in the first round of elections, leaving only one female in the top 12. Two-thirds of the candidates in the first round were male, although over half of the student body population is female. This disparate gender representation has precedent. In Phillips Academy’s 35 years as a co-ed institution, there have only been four female presidents. Dr. E. Anthony Rotundo, Co-Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, said, “It’s complicated. I think there are a lot of reasons. Some … are very local and some of them are a reflection of the world around us.” For example, according to Rotundo, Hillary Clinton’s bid for the U.S. presidency and her campaign complications were influential factors from outside Phillips Academy. Tim McLaughlin ’11 said, “As a male, I’d probably connect more [with a male candidate].” Linda Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development, said that many girls hold leadership positions in other areas of the school community, such as the female-led CAFÉ (Community Awareness for Everyone). Griffith said that girls tend to gravitate toward more nurturing leadership positions, such as within community service projects, rather than the high-profile positions of student government. Alex Gottfried ’09, one of the 12 remaining candidates, said, “Qualified girls are … warded off by this perception that girls can’t get elected, so they dedicate their energies to other things.” Carolyn Brown ’09, the sole remaining female presidential candidate, said, “A lot of my friends who are girls already have more leadership positions in other areas and are too busy [to run for president].” McLaughlin said that even if girls are receiving leadership training in other arenas, the fact that there have been so few female presidents “is a problem. It’s probably not just a coincidence that males have been more eligible each year. That’s obviously not true. This means that we haven’t had the most eligible candidates each year, and that’s what we’re looking for.” Rotundo said that the purpose of Phillips Academy is to educate and train its students, both male and female. “In the area of leadership of large groups and serving in a representative body, girls don’t get the same training here as boys do, and that’s just a statistical fact.” Rotundo said, “I think PA is a relatively un-sexist community… but for some reason in the realm of student leadership at the highest levels, attitudes just get really different.” He said that, in his 25 years at Phillips Academy, “other things in other areas have equalized, but that [student government] is one area where there’s been no change.” David Janovsky ’11 said that gender “didn’t really affect me when I was skimming the ballots.” Mary Krome ’09 said that “because there have only been male student body presidents since I’ve been at this school, I am inclined to associate the position with men.” Rekha Auguste-Nelson ’09, one of the female candidates eliminated in the first round, said that that national government is also an influence. She said, “Up until this national election, the past 43 presidents have been male… I do think that girls and guys alike have a predisposition to vote for a male candidate.” Some students also said that many of the girls who run seem to be running on a platform of previous popularity, rather than a real desire to take on the position’s responsibility. Gloria Odusote ’09 said that the candidates who give the funniest speeches and run the most entertaining campaigns are often the most successful. Emanuel Feld ’09 said that he thinks “girls tend to be less comfortable making fun of themselves in front of a large audience.” Griffith agreed and said that when a boy acts dumb, it seems funny. But when a girl acts dumb, it just seems dumb. Female candidates might encounter this struggle of being entertaining while still being taken seriously more than males. Brown said, “When I ran for Lower rep, I was the only girl who made it to the final round, and I got phrased as ‘the girl’… I don’t want to be viewed as ‘the girl’ but as another candidate.” Brown said a problem she encountered running for Lower representative was that many of the male students in her grade assumed that she would receive all the female votes. Brown said that many students chose to vote for other candidates for that reason. However, Andi Zhou ’09 said, “From what I’ve observed, I don’t think girls are more likely to vote for girls.” The contrary perception, however, may hurt female candidates. Gottfried said, “Sexism is alive here, but I don’t think this is a sexist school. I don’t think sexism is the primary cause of the disparity.” According to Gottfried, there was writing last year on a bathroom wall that used a slur to refer to male supporters of Lydia Dallett ’08 or Blaine Johnson ’08, the two female candidates in last year’s final six. However, Krystle Manuel-Countee ’09, one of the candidates eliminated in the first round, said she thinks the system is fair. She said, “It may just be [because the girls] didn’t campaign as hard as the guys that more girls got eliminated.” Regardless of the reason, Rotundo said that a disparity still exists, as “a minority of the candidates were female and a majority of the candidates eliminated in the first round were female.”