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September 29, 2013

UC Merced student government aims to get women involved

Elect Her: Campus Women Win encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office. Rebecca M. Thompson, a progressive leader, will lead an event Wednesday at UC Merced.

Women, particularly young women, are underrepresented in public positions, and a couple of UC Merced groups are out to change that, at least in Merced.

The Associated Students of the University of California, Merced, and the school’s Women’s Programs paid to bring a keynote speaker to campus Wednesday to talk young women into getting into politics. The groups have plans for more intense training before next semester.

Associated Students President Jaron Brandon said the ratio of men to women in the student group this year is 2-to-1, but this year is an anomaly. Brandon, a 21-year-old senior, said the ratio during his four years at the school was about 6-to-1.

“It’s not so much that female candidates lose, it’s more that we don’t have a lot of female candidates that run, unfortunately,” he said.

The student government is made up of about 100 offices, of which 24 are elected, Brandon said. The school has no shortage of female campus leaders, with a population split at nearly 50-50, but fewer women than men throw their hats into the political ring, he said.

The event’s organizers hope to encourage young women to get involved, with a number of student government seats are up for election in the spring semester, Brandon said.

“The issue is when you have a long-standing circumstance where women have systematically, seemingly, not been involved in student government, there’s something wrong with that system,” he said.

UC Merced’s numbers are not much different from national numbers. Women hold about 18 percent of the seats in Congress, which is a little more than a 5-1 ratio of men to women. Almost 51 percent of Americans are women.

The keynote speaker, Rebecca Thompson, the senior director of engagement at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, spoke to a handful of female students Wednesday. The Detroit native said she plans to run for state representative in Michigan’s 1st District next year.

Thompson told the women never to wait to be asked to run, and not to “wait your turn.” She said studies show women in the political arena were asked seven times to run for office before they did.

“Men don’t see all these barriers to leadership,” she said, speaking to the women in the room. “So, while we have to be asked seven times, they’re like, ‘Oh, I nominate myself.’ ”

“Dudes have been doing this for years,” she said. “Let’s not redefine the game, let’s learn the rules to it.”

Some of the women in attendance were interested in running for political office.

Adariana Garcia, a 22-year-old senior, holds one of the appointed seats in Associated Students. She said she sees the disparity in the school government.

Women at UC Merced tend to take appointed spots and don’t vie for election. “I don’t know if it’s a matter of education, or women are denying themselves that opportunity to run,” the political science major said.

Garcia said she was intimidated to run a campaign. “I underestimated my ability to do it,” she said.

Also in attendance was 22-year-old senior Sierra Long, who has no aspirations to public office. The history major wants to teach, she said.

“I want to work with students (and) empower the girls that I work with to maybe be into politics,” Long said. “Whatever it is that they’re passionate about.”

Coordinator of Women’s Programs Molly Bechtel said she is working on bringing a program to the campus during the spring semester that would provide more intensive training to underrepresented groups. It would include lessons on what student government does, how to campaign and how to ask for signatures.

“I think with more conversation and more promotion it can really be a powerful opportunity for UC Merced,” Bechtel said.

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