Street sat down with Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president Ella Cheng ’16, one of the many new female leaders on campus. We asked Cheng about the gender dynamics of the USG election last fall and women's leadership roles on campus.
Daily Princetonian: According to The New York Times, you are the first female USG president since 2003. How does it feel to inhabit that role?
I think that how I really started [was] I was really encouraged from the vice president from I think two terms ago at this point, Carmina Mancenon [’14] — she knocked the first few doors when I went door-to-door. So that really encouraged me when I was running for freshman senator and really set me on a pretty clear trajectory onward. I think that’s a really clear illustration for me I guess as what my role is as a woman leader... I’ve learned the first few weeks that it’s a lot of work, but I’ve really enjoyed it. Every day I get the unique role of getting to make a difference on this campus, little by little. I’m trying to innovate a lot in the USG after such a controversial and well-talked-about election.
DP: During the election, you said that a female candidate would not have been able to pull off the satirical campaign that Will Gansa ’17 did.
EC: First of all, the funny thing is I don’t think I have that great a sense of humor, or I have a very weird sense of humor, so I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off myself. But besides that, I think that even a girl in Quipfire, or you know, really a great comedian on campus here, I don’t think she would necessarily have gotten an attraction that Will’s campaign did because she’s a woman. I think generally women in politics are viewed as — when they are in that position to really run for higher positions — usually they’ve gotten de-positioned because they’ve gone well beyond their calling, their roles, their responsibilities and over-performed. It’s always about hard work and diligence and almost serious work, it’s not necessarily about your personality or sense of humor. And when you have those elements sometimes you can be discredited as too light-hearted and not taking your job seriously enough.
I think this is kind of different gender norms for women in leadership and I generally do think, from what I see women have to over-perform to themselves feel qualified for the position or and also sometimes to be perceived as qualified to run. So that’s why I think there’s a disparity there. During the election I did not want to necessarily embrace these points as directly but that was one of the points that resonated with me the most when a lot of women stood up to defend me and Molly [Stoneman ’16] and stand up for us, and I think that one made a lot of sense to me. Having a lot of experience in politics and having gone through numerous election cycles since high school, middle school, it really goes way back, I think.
DP:Aside from satirical campaign, the USG election was also marked by gender dynamics. Will you try to address these dynamics as president?
EC:To address it, what I’m trying to do on my end is to promote the work of the Women’s Center and the Women’s Mentorship Program. While I don’t want to overlap with their work and supercede it, what I’ve tried is to advertise their networking events, their forums on the school-wide emails and also to attend a lot of these myself. I’ve joined the mentoring program, I’ve been at Women’s Center events so that this way, my face is known and that girls can feel like they are comfortable to talk to me about what it’s like to run, what it’s like to campaign.
You’ll probably see more of me when it comes to upcoming spring elections for USG, because you know this will be my last term so I will have a lot of freedom to reach out to a lot of girls and to advocate for them specifically and encourage them one-on-one.