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Daum Breaks UNC Elections Trend

Before Student Body President-elect Jen Daum posted her first campaign flier, she already was bucking a UNC trend.

When Daum officially declared her candidacy for student body president in January, she became just the 12th woman in the last 10 years to run for the position -- compared to 44 male candidates during that time period.

Daum broke another campus trend Tuesday when she was elected as only the third female student body president since the position's inception in 1921. UNC's first female student body president, Patricia Wallace, was elected in 1985.

But University officials and former candidates said they hope to see the trends of male domination in student elections come to an end in the near future.

Cindy Wolf Johnson, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said she has observed a negative bias against female candidates in the past decade that has discouraged many females from running for office. "I've heard many people not giving serious consideration for women candidates based on the fact that they are women," she said.

Reyna Walters, student body president from 1998-99, said she had to take factors like her physical appearance and dress into account more as a female candidate. "All the old stereotypes are in place that you still have to overcome," Walters said. "Those minor things have a subconscious effect on people."

John Dervin, campaign co-manager for student body president candidates Stacey Brandenburg in 1995 and Aaron Nelson in 1996, said working on a female candidate's campaign presented special challenges because female candidates' behavior is more heavily scrutinized.

"There's a difficult line to walk with female candidates," Dervin said. "If you're too empathetic you're viewed as weak, and if you're too tough and assertive, qualities seen as favorable in a man, you're viewed as a bitch."

Brandenburg, the runner-up to Calvin Cunningham in the 1995 student body president election, said female candidates also are hurt by the lack of female politicians to serve as positive role models.

"If you aren't particularly familiar with the issues, you tend to vote for images of leadership you feel comfortable with," Brandenburg said.

But while the past decade has seen a disproportionately low ratio of female student body president candidates, eight of the last 11 student body vice presidents have been women. Walters attributes this phenomenon partially to the desire of male student body presidents to address women's issues in their administrations.

"When it comes down to it, student government has been a good ol' boy network," she said. "It's common that when they don't know about a women's issue, they'll bring in a female to help them out."

Emily Williamson, a graduate student who served as Walters' vice president, said appointed positions allow women to serve in student government without having to go through the scrutiny of a public election -- factors she said kept her from running for office. "I wanted to be involved in student government, but I was averse to the campaigning process and putting myself out there to be torn apart by whomever," she said.

Daum said that while she understands why women might see their gender as a handicap, she feels her perspective as a woman and the focus on women's issues in her platform helped her better resonate with female voters.

"I always referred to it as the X factor," Daum said. "I didn't know if it would help or hurt me."

Several former candidates expressed hope that the presence of a female in the student body president office will encourage more women to run in future years.

"Anytime you start changing the image of leadership and bucking the concept of what leadership can be, it's beneficial," Brandenburg said. "You're only increasing the opportunities for everyone."

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The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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