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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

UC: diversity in leadership

As a result of my post below, a conversation began about women and minorities on the Council and in leadership positions in general. Lori Adelman, the Vice Chair of FiCom and one of a few rising star sophomores on the Council, posted a comment that I thought I would bring to the front page to continue this conversation. She begins by quoting the commenter before her:
"More minorities should run. More non-straights should run. That's something that NO ONE can control but minorities and non-straights."

Wow I'm going to have to seriously disagree with anonymous' assertion here. There are many factors involved in forming tickets, not the least of which is appeal to voters. And as long as there are negative stereotypes floating around in our less-than-perfect society, subtly or not-so-subtly influencing the opinions and decisions of who is leadership material, we have to acknowledge that race and gender act as hindrances to one's appeal to voters, making it harder for women and minorities to get elected. This is certainly a factor in why many qualified and otherwise enthusiastic minority/women candidates choose to "play second string" to more popular straight white male figureheads (Not that I've seen THAT happening anywhere lately.)
(more in expanded post)
Because of these negative stereotypes and latent ideas about what the UC president should look like, minorities/women often have to do more to achieve the same respect and political clout as white males in a wholly intolerant society. For example, if a female UC candidate had as notorious a dating/hooking up record of some white male candidates who have graced the UC political scene, she would not even be considered as a viable candidate and wouldn't even be able to garner respect from the campus. It's naive to say that UC-hopefuls aren't aware of this inherent disadvantage and don't react to it accordingly.

So it's clear to me that individual people's decisions (women and non-whites included) about whether or not to run are not actually individual at all. In fact, as most of our decisions are, they are influenced by their understanding of their society (I hate the vagueness of that term), of this campus culture. I know personally as one of two black female UC members, my expected role on the council is often different than the more "conventional" politicians, white straight males. I think that it's safe to say to anyone who acknowledges the reality of the power of race and gender on this campus that someone like me has to prove my competency while male or white candidates may only have to affirm theirs.

(I do realize that in this comment I'm making something of a generalization here. I realize that there are some people on this campus who can act from a completely unbiased and tolerant mindset, but I think the majority of the campus, myself included, would have to be admit that we are not completely resistant to the tons of subtle and not-so-subtle messages we receive every day that give us negative ideas about minorities and women and leave us less inclined to give them leadership roles above us.)

On another level, it means something fundamentally different for a minority candidate to win a UC election among a majority-white campus than it does for a white candidate to do the same thing, simply because of people's psychological tendencies to relate to people who look like them. This is another way in which there are inherent disadvantages to women/minority UC-hopefuls that have nothing to do with being their fault and are certainly not in their control.

So, I think for all these reasons that almost everyone on this campus has influence over who feels comfortable and confident enough to run and who doesn't, and to this extent, the complete and realistic picture is that minorities and non-straights are certainly not the only ones who have control over whether or not they run and how they choose to form their tickets.
This, I think, is a phenomenally good explanation from someone who has to deal with this on a day to day basis. What are your thoughts?

10 Comments:

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Samson said...

Lori, you're awesome. Just one thing that I didn't see in your post that I was wondering about...

I'd like to point out that the UC as a whole, with respect to proportional representation of African-Americans (I can't speak to other ethnic groups), does quite well (out of 48 or so reps, there are 6 African-Americans). Thats around 12% - higher than the percentage of African-Americans that go to this school. My question is this - why does there seem to be this disconnect between who people want representing their house in the UC versus who they want to be running the UC? If everything that Lori posted was true (and I believe that most, if not all of it is) then shouldn't we also be seeing a lack of minority representation on the Council itself? I'm just curious about this...

 
At 8:24 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Great question to follow a fabulous comment. Lori, thanks for bringing a really important perspective both by virtue of your position in the UC and your general brilliance. :)

Samson's question reminds me of a conversation we had on the blog earlier this year about why black people are cool.
http://cambridgecommon.blogspot.com/2005/10/black-men-first-class-marshal.html.

In my view, people are elected to prominent UC positions like president and vice president based on different criteria than those by which house representatives or first class marshals are judged. Black stereotypes include being cooler and more fun than white people, which may increase voters' inclination to elect Black representatives in social coordinating positions. But this stereotype, while potentially advantageous in races based mostly or purely on social life, may also be a barrier to electablity in other kinds of elections where different qualities and images are prioritized.

In my view, Lori's observation that "someone like me has to prove my competency while male or white candidates may only have to affirm theirs" is partly explained by the fact that the idea of competency itself is closely tied to preconceived notions of gender, race, and class. Speech patterns, manners, dress, and communication styles all contribute to an image of competence a candidate projects, and these attributes are often informed by culture, class, and gender. Given equal capabilities and qualifications, a person who displays these qualities in accordance with white, upper-class, heterosexual norms is usually more likely to be considered competent (and, in this case, electable to positions of serious authority and responsibility) than someone who doesn't.

Of course, you don't have to be a straight white man to speak, gesture, dress, and communicate like one. The closer women and minorities (and straight white men, for that matter) come to displaying these behaviorisms to the public, the more electable they will be (usually). But, as Lori said, we start out at a disadvantage because people don't assume on first sight that we will embody these characteristics.

I'm not suggesting that the association of competency with race, gender, and class norms is the only factor or even the most important element in determining electability, but I think it contributes significantly.

 
At 8:48 PM, Blogger Ben said...

I'm proud to be in the same House Delegation as you, Lori! Excellent post.

I would say that the first step towards correcting this, in the UC at least, is getting women and minorities into committee leadership so that they are in a better position to run for the top slots. And we're actually not doing too badly in that regard; of the 9 UC chairs and vice-chairs, 5 are women and/or minorities.

Samson, I don't think election to a general UC seat is limited by much more than a real desire to win, at least in the upperclass houses. I got 30 of my friends to write me in, and poof, I was on the UC.

As a side note, I don't want to delve too much into speculation for the next election before this one is even over yet, but I'd say that the two leading presidential contenders for next year are both white males.

 
At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think lori should be president.

 
At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lori adelman for president

 
At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i def know lori should be in higher office....i told her that before i think, and encouraged her to rn for fi-com chair...but that's her decision...one problem is that so many minorities are wrapped up so much in other student groups that they don't have enought time to dedicate to the demands of the uc or oher areas...it sucks, but its true that so many resources are used in building up within community groups, be it aaa, abhw,fuerza, bgltsa, rus or whatever....i'd also echo that key is getting minorities into roles that will launch them into presidency/vice presidency....part of many people's criticism of the moore/nichol's campaign had nothing at all to do with the platform, but with lack of uc experience...

to clarify a few misconcepetions...this year's uc is pretty diverse..its is not overrun with white males, even though about 20 or so of them are...but even within that group there is diversity(even if it may just be international)....out of the upcoming sophomores on the uc, id say that lori, jane, and amadi are pretty darn important. yes there's also greenfield and petersen, but is there really anything wrong or suprising with two white males working on their platforms. the freshman class shows promise as well, and sophomore year elections are just as important for building a rapport. there are also many asian women doing things on the uc, and many would claim that to be one of the least politically inclined groups...but hey.

whats missing from a lot of the discussion about reality is the fact that any of the candidates can actually perform the task of leading the uc. as ty moore said, its not rocket science. adminstrative ties do hold some importance as has been brought up with the sec bill. also the president's executive powers really doesnt let him just put something in place...there will always be about thirty more people who bothered to come to the meeting, who have opinions concerning any legislation on changing the policy. just as well, the administration does not have to do anything at all...they have recently taken more interest in social programming, but that doesnt mean that they will just run with it. who is the administration anyway? is it corker? is it han? is it dean gross or kidd? ...people have quoted different people as saying different things, but no one has ever stated where the final decision gets made...maybe because no one knows or cared to ask

yes lori i agree that larger societal influences have an effect on whether or not people run. i know people who said they never would have considered the uc if they were not approached by uncle bpack and his vote or die cohorts...but in the long run, at a school like harvard, where many of these students have pushed for something before in their lives, its not so implausible for them to push for the uc...more importantly i think there is a real imbalance in many of the communities with people too busy to simultaneously serve within and outside of the communities...you seem to have done a great job, as have other uc vets, as have other people who play a sport and are on a board, or do real meaningful community service and are on a board...and yea..


if this was coherent and polished and not a streak of consciousness id reveal my identity(if you can't tell already)...but i'd rather stay as anonymous

 
At 12:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just FYI, at the Crimson Ty Moore's actual words were: "it's not rocket surgery"

 
At 2:30 AM, Anonymous Elephant said...

. . . except that your entire argument is completely undermined by even a modicum of historical knowledge. Female and minority candidates have often been elected as UC presidents, even if the Mahan, Glazer, and the next UC president happen to be white men.

Fentrice D. Driskell '01 was an African-American woman, Sujean Lee '03 was an Asian-American woman, and Rohit Chopra '04 was an Indian-American man. There have been women like Beth Stewart '00, Lamelle D. Rawlins '99, and even other minorities at least as far back Guhan Subramanian '92.

Relying on the last couple of years is committing a fallacy of the law of small numbers, no matter how much pseudo-intellectual babble you can muster behind these so-called "preconceived notions".

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

not so fast, elephant. i think the situation may be more nuanced than your facts suggest.

of the four female presidents you list, both rawlins and lee served as veeps under male presidents before running for the top office. driskell also ran for vice president on a ticket with christopher king, but they lost by only 100 votes after being discredited by some sketchy smear tactics that called king's christian beliefs into question. i don't know too much about uc politics, but it's interesting to note that none of the male presidents since at least as far back as 1997 have served as vice president before running for president.

gesturing at women and minorities who have held high uc positions doesn't effectively challenge the basic argument here, which is not that women and minorities can't get elected, but that in order to do so they have to work harder to prove their competency and overcome more social obstacles than the upper-class straight white men who most often win the offices. if we can agree that such obstacles exist, the next step is to try to identify what they are exactly. part of the point of shedding light on this issue is to help encourage more minorities, women, and minority women, who may otherwise have been reluctant, to run for positions for which they are qualified.

 
At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Caitlin said...

Thanks Katie! While Elephant's "modicum" (and it really was JUST that) of historical knowledge was eye-catching, your more nuanced research is really helpful in keeping this discussion interesting and on track.

As you emphasize, it is really important that we all resist the temptation to change what this discussion is really about. It is not about whether women or minorities CAN get elected or hold office. It is about whether or not its harder for these folks, and why?

 

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