Lack of Competition, Gender Parity in CMC Executive Board Elections

Eight candidates, all of whom were men, ran for a position in the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College 2017-18 executive board Feb. 23 election. The seven positions on the ballot included ASCMC president and executive vice president.

Co-President of the CMC Women’s Forum Shruti Topudurti CM ’18 attributed the absence of female candidates to lagging interest in ASCMC among the student body as a whole. She discounted the possibility that female students feel unwelcome to run for office. 

“I think [the gender disparity] has more to do with interest in the appointed positions rather than having an elected position, or women thinking that there are ways to make an impact on campus besides ASCMC,” Topudurti said.

Women were underrepresented on the ASCMC board this year as well. The student body is 49 percent female, but women held only seven of the 23 seats on the board. One of those seven seats was an elected position; the rest were appointed.

“I don’t think CMC as a whole is lacking in terms of empowered women, or women in leadership [roles],” ASCMC presidential advisor Elaine Sohng CM ’17 said. “But I do see that that’s not being reflected in ASCMC.”

Sohng cited female leadership of CMC’s Model UN team, Student Investment Fund, and SOURCE, a campus consulting group. By contrast, the last female president of ASCMC held office five years ago.

Current ASCMC President Nicky Blumm CM ’17 said the gender disparity is a symptom of a larger problem: students’ reluctance to run for office. The only contested position was the presidency, which Blumm said was “horribly disappointing.” He was hoping for a larger and more diverse pool of candidates.

In fact, five of the eight candidates were on the ASCMC board this year, suggesting that students were unlikely to run for office without previous involvement with ASCMC. Whether they were hesitant to run against incumbent members or were uninterested, as both Topudurti and Sohng suggested, remains unclear.

“A lot of people don’t recognize the meaningful impact ASCMC can make,” Sohng said. “I think students, in general, would rather put their time and effort into organizations where they can see that direct impact, and with ASCMC you don’t always get that.”

The lack of turnover in the recent election may have perpetuated this year’s gender disparity. Previous elections have been both more contested and more equitable. For example, in 2013, 20 students ran for eight positions. Four of the elected students were women.

Both Blumm and ASCMC President-elect Sami Malas CM ’19 communicated concern about students’ reluctance to run for office. Blumm is worried that fear of failure is keeping students from running.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “people do need to have a thick enough skin to know that they can lose a big election.”

Malas will focus on developing student engagement in the hope that more candidates will run for ASCMC in years to come.

“We’ve done a lot — and in my term I will continue to do a lot — to make sure that ASCMC is accessible for everyone,” Malas said, “and that in future elections everyone feels that they can run.”

He does not think that outreach efforts should just focus on female students.

“It's important to message out to all students equally,” Malas said. “While I think it’s extremely important to ensure that women’s voices are heard on the board, there are other ways for that. This board will be focused on making sure that all students are represented, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity.”

The new board will take office after spring break. Candidates for appointed positions were interviewed this week.

“My hopes are high for next year,” Blumm said, “but I guess that’s a long way off.”