In the state of Kansas, women only make up 23 percent of the House of Representatives and 32 percent of the Senate. While they make up almost 50 percent of the population, they’re underrepresented in Kansas’ government. On K-State’s campus, women make up approximately one-third of the 60 student senators in the Student Governing Association.
“In Kansas and in the United States, I feel like women continue to be discounted, not explicitly because of their gender, but because of the different opportunities that they’re afforded and the different ways that we perceive women in leadership roles,” Hope Faflick, senior in political science, said.
As one of the leaders of the nicknamed “Lean In Row,” a group of female senators who occupy the front row in the Big 12 Room each Thursday night in Senate, Faflick said that while she’s always felt like an equal in Student Governing Association, more than once, she’s been the only female in the room.
“I think we need to encourage students to really engage with SGA,” Faflick said. “Especially with female students, they need to know they’re welcome and to make sure that they know their voice counts just as much. We need their voice and their seat at the table to make a better decision. Until we get people in the room, our decisions won’t be truly reflective of the campus.”
Sarah Haley, senior in psychology and senator, said while she had great mentors in former Speakers of the Senate Natalie Roth and Emily Taylor, she cites the top position—president—as the key position for women.
“When we talk about a woman being president, people say ‘well it’s not the right time,’” Haley said. “But when will be the right time is my question. I think we need to stop making excuses on that part. I think women are ready and I think it’s time for us to accept that.”
Within the Student Governing Association, there have been more male than female presidents. Haley said it’s best to always find the right person for the position, but she questions if women are being motivated to even try for higher up positions.
“Maybe it’s because females haven’t wanted that role and want a different role in SGA,” Logan Britton, senior in agricultural economics and senator for the College of Agriculture, said. “But I feel very confident that there are a lot of ladies that could definitely fill that roll in the next couple of years. I believe that in the next few years we will see a female student body president.”
Female personalities and the perception of female politicians can also be a hindrance for girls looking to pursue a position in Student Governing Association or a career in politics. Faflick said she faced the issue where females personalities were seen as aggressive, rather than assertive.
For Mollie Hart, junior in management, through her last year in Student Governing Association, she said she personally didn’t have a negative experience reflective of her gender. However, early in her career, her get-things-done attitude surprised her fellow committee members and it took time for them to adjust and know that her personality was beneficial in the long-term.
“I think it’s a lot more difficult for a woman to stand her ground without getting a lot of backlash,” Faflick said. “Whereas, when a man sticks to his guns, he’s applauded for being headstrong and a leader and not compromising. But when a woman does it, she’s stubborn and unyielding and demonized.”
Haley said she’s seen the impact of that backlash, across the board for men and women alike.
“You can lose your voice if you speak too much, but why is that?” Haley said. “At least you care and you’re involved.”
Both Haley and Hart believe that women can bring a different perspective to the discussion, seeing manners in a different light than men. While Haley stated that sometimes it can be hard for women to get their voice through, the women of K-State are not surrendering their voice any time soon.
“Women are here, they’re making a change and they’re doing things for the better,” Haley said.