By Jaclyn Schiff
Friday, October 5, 2007
Hillary Clinton's historic bid to be the first female U.S. president is turning heads on college campuses. Even if female students aren't sure they'll vote for her most think she'll spur more women into student government and campus politics.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Stephanie Biese said she decided to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid when she read the New York senator's biography.
"She has surpassed so many obstacles," said Biese, 21, who co-chairs Students for Hillary at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "She hasn't given up on what she believes in, and that inspires me. I would support her if she were a man, but isn't it nice that she's a woman?"
Clinton's front-runner status in the Democratic presidential field is stimulating plenty of discussion about women and politics within the U.S. college population, which the National Center for Education Statistics predicts will be 58 percent female by 2014.
While young women are expanding their campus majority, the numbers are not reflected in the composition of student governments and other student political groups.
It is difficult to find a nationally-recognized co-ed university that elects a woman to a student government position with any regularity. That's also true with groups such as College Democrats or College Republicans.
"The campus newspaper editorials are male dominated and so are many of the campus organizations," added Biese.
Unlike Biese, Allison Maranuk, a senior at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass., is not sure if she will vote for Clinton. But she is certain her candidacy will inspire more women to participate in student politics.
"I think the colloquial phrases, 'She's the next Hillary' and 'She wants to be Hillary Clinton' are testaments to how Hillary's leadership success has helped paved the way for younger generations of females," Maranuk wrote in an e-mail.
Maranuk said many Smith students still seem to be deciding between Illinois' Sen. Barack Obama and Clinton but that Smith students, in general, are proud "to have some connection to her," through Clinton's alma mater Wellesley College, which along with Smith is a member of the so-called Seven Sisters group of long-established women's schools.
Shelly Anand, student body president at Wellesley, said Clinton's attendance at the school does not earn her automatic votes among students there. "Hillary Rodham Clinton is a respected alumna of Wellesley, much like the other alumnae, but I don't think that anyone should assume that Wellesley students will automatically vote for her," said Anand.
But she agreed with Maranuk that Clinton will nonetheless encourage other women to take a shot at political leadership. "Women like her and Madeline Albright serve as a major inspiration to a lot of women. It's inspiring to think about how far our generation of women can go."
While the majority of college campuses have past the days of "the first woman ever" in leadership positions of student government, they are not past the days of women merely disrupting normal patterns of male leadership.
Nicole Capp, for instance, is the first female student in eight years to serve as president of the student government of George Washington University, Washington, D.C. She is the second female president to be elected in the organization's 33 year history.
Capp, 21, said she and her supporters are eager to focus on her experience, strategy and platform of expanding healthy eating options on campus, creating a student support center and improving the student government's communication with students. She said it was refreshing that people were rallying around her for those reasons and not because she is a woman.
Lauren Wolfe is a law student at the University of Detroit Mercy and the first woman to serve as president of the College Democrats of America since 2000. She thinks few women are getting elected because few are seeking office in the first place.
"I believe that young women are often afraid of taking the initial risk of putting themselves out there and . . . running in an election," Wolfe wrote in an e-mail. "I've found that young women will often not run unless they are strongly encouraged by friends or if they are simply running in an uncontested election." She added that she is the first woman at the school to run in a competitive race for the presidency of College Democrats.
Krista Jenkins, an assistant professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, N.J., said it was a matter of role models. The world, she said, has shown little girls that politics is for men. "It sends a not-so-subtle message that political leadership is not something women should be involved in."
Enter Hillary Clinton, widely considered the Democratic front runner.
Capp, who plays down Clinton's catalyzing effect on young women's political participation, acknowledges that even women who don't like the candidate "are encouraged that there is a woman up at the top being considered for President."
But that doesn't extend to Jessica Beeson, who last year served as the College Republican National Committee's national co-chairman, the group's second highest elected position.
"My biggest hope for the future of this organization is that there will be female mentors for those after me," Beeson said.
But as for Clinton attracting Republican college women away from GOP candidates, Beeson said she is not worried. "I believe she is a polarizing figure and will turn most people off. Beyond that, on the issues, I believe she is bad for women and everyone else."
Jaclyn Schiff is a staff writer for GlobalHealthReporting.org and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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