With nearly a 2:1 male-to-female ratio of University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union executive members over the last 15 years, and only two USSU presidents identifying as female in its 100-year history, the University Student Council is hoping to stimulate change with a new initiative aimed at creating leadership opportunities for women on campus.
The U of S Commission on Female Leadership hopes to be a ground-breaking movement, which will promote awareness of women’s issues within the campus community. The idea was first born during the March 2015 USSU election campaign when Gabe Senecal, vice-president academic affairs, noticed a disparity between the two genders.
“I first noticed that there was a pretty unequal gender representation in the USSU executive when, back in the March election campaign, there was only one female running, Wendy Lee, and it turned out that she ended up not winning, so we don’t even have a single female-identifying executive this year,” Senecal said.
Senecal also notes that when he was speaking to students about this issue, many felt it was quite disconcerting that there were not any women on the USSU executive, and were asking why.
With 11,909 female students enrolled at the U of S for the 2015 fall term versus only 9,071 male students, Senecal recognizes the disadvantage the executive team may be facing.
“It’s a perfectly fair criticism. It’s none of our own faults because we all ran independently of each other, but it’s a very fair critique to have of our executive this year. And it’s an unfortunate thing that we try to adjust to, and we have to try to figure out a way that we cannot have a huge oversight because we’re missing a large portion of the population in representation,” he said.
This is where the Commission on Female Leadership comes in. The structure of the commission was settled on by the USSU and will have three members of the USC, one USSU Women’s Centre co-ordinator and three students at large.
So far, only three members of the USC have been chosen, as well as the Women’s Centre co-ordinator, Dylan Lambi-Raine. The students at large will be chosen shortly and that decision will be made by USSU president, Jack Saddleback.
Jaylynn Arcand, third-year student in the College of Medicine and one of the USC’s representatives for the Commission on Female Leadership, reveals some of the issues that female students might face when it comes to getting involved with the USSU.
“We spoke about this as a group, and although we all can identify some large social barriers for female-identified students — glass ceilings, gender roles and expectations just to name a few — we are unsure about what this looks like specifically on our campus. We hope that beginning the Commission on Female Leadership will allow us to shed some light on the barriers facing students on campus,” Arcand said.
Senecal agrees with the notion that we need to focus on what these broader social issues look like within the smaller community of the university campus.
“It is a societal problem, it’s not limited to the USSU or the U of S. It’s a much bigger problem. What we’re trying to change is making it better here. It’s better to do something than do nothing. The quote I like to use is, ‘If not us, then who, and if not now, then when?’” Senecal said.
Arcand echoes Senecal and emphasizes how pivotal the commission will be in creating change at the U of S and increasing leadership opportunities for women on campus.
“I believe that our generation does not want inequity to be the norm. I believe that the diversity of leadership will bring us further than a homogenous group could,” she said.
Arcand believes she can speak for all members of the USC in her support of each and every student on campus having not only the freedom, but also a sense of empowerment to choose any role they wish to pursue.
“If there is something that is standing in someone’s way, I want to break down that barrier.”