Welcome to the 21stcentury, where women and men are supposedly treated equally and enjoy the same opportunities. Princeton’s Class of 2017 is almost equally divided between men and women, as are other Ivy League freshman classes. Women and men have an equal opportunity at Princeton to apply for leadership positions. So half of the clubs and organizations should be led by women, right?
When I walk into a Whig-Clio debate, all the speakers are male. And USG leadership, either campus-wide or class-wide? The same.
When you look at the overall leadership numbers, the problem is even more staggering. At the beginning of coeducation, the “leadership gap” wasn’t much of an issue. Women were eagerly reaching for and attaining prominent roles on campus. Across high-profile campus posts, including president of the student government, chair of the Honor Committee, editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonianand president of the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior classes, six women in the 1970s held those positions, 18 in the 1980s and 22 in the 1990s. But in the first decade of the 21stcentury, there were only 12 women filling these roles.
Quite frankly, after acknowledging the female leadership void, the report offers little in the way of innovative recommendations to change the status quo. There is no urgency in its tone. Indeed, the report only recommends that the issue be re-examined in 10 years. But just by looking at the numbers or merely attending campus events, it’s nearly impossible to miss the problem. And, as the report notes, it is not just an issue at Princeton. The problem exists on many other college campuses. This is a cultural problem around the United States and the world. Understanding the broader problem, I acknowledge that, in the pursuit of leadership equity, there is a limit as to how much the school or the law can do. Nevertheless, Princeton could do more than it is currentlydoing.
The university, legally and ethically, must ensure an environment of equal opportunity. Women must have the same options as men. And we do. No one can stop me from applying for or attaining a leadership position. And I certainly wouldn’t want to attain such a title because the school had forced clubs to set aside a certain number of leadership roles for women. I want to earn a position as a result of all I’ve accomplished and the skills I’ve acquired.
As the report recommends, the University's Women’s Center holds events to empower women on campus and tries to encourage leadership. There are mentorship programs both among women students and female professors. In this respect, the school is pulling its weight. The school has a responsibility to guarantee equal opportunity and ought to try to encourage women to be more ambitious. After all, they were accepted to Princeton just like the men. Of course, more can always be done, but the fact that there are resources going to these programs is a start. And, hopefully, it will help put a dent in those statistics over the next decade.
But what is really needed is for everyone on campus, male and female, to take a hard look at ourselves and our attitudes. The report found that women here at Princeton consistently undersold themselves, while male students stressed their accomplishments.
Women need to take initiative and ownership of the problem and not look to anyone else for a hand up. Lack of female leadership has been and will continue to be a problem, both on and off campus, until women put forth a conscious and united effort to change it. That is the argument of Sheryl Sandberg, current COO of Facebook, in her book "Lean In."Sandberg notes that women have to make a genuine effort to try to change perceptions and the norm. Women have to apply for positions even if they are not sure they are qualified and speak up about their opinions in corporate meetings. In her New York Times review of the book, University professor emerita Anne-Marie Slaughter extends this responsibility to both women and the corporate culture as a whole. And both are right. We all need to work toward change. Students and the University have a responsibility to reverse the trend of inequality among student and faculty leadership. The school could do more to make this an issue on the forefront of everyone’s mind, here and outside the Orange Bubble. Princeton should not only sensitize women to this issue but also faculty, staff and male students. Frequent lectures or public discussions among administration and students can encourage people across campus to take action to change the status quo. College is just the place to start molding future leaders — future leaders of both genders.
Marni Morse is a freshman from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at email@example.com.