Honor Sewanee women: Gender disparity on the Honor Council

courtesy of Taylor Baird
Photo courtesy of Taylor Baird

By Marion Givhan
Staff Writer

How much does the gender of the members matter on the Honor Council? My friend, a young woman who ran for the freshman spot on the Council, was the first person to inform me of the shocking fact that Taylor Baird (C’15) and Paniz Rezaeerod (C’15) are the only two – two! – female members. I thought, but wait, what if a girl doesn’t get elected this year? What would happen when Baird and Rezaeerod graduated? Would more girls be elected next year? I campaigned strongly for my friend for two reasons: 1) I thought she would do an amazing job based on her experience with similar endeavors, and 2) I grew worried about the male-female ratio.

Unfortunately, my friend did not win. It felt like a high school election, a popularity contest. The question was not who would do the best job, but who could charm the pants off the most people in the shortest amount of time. This was incredibly disheartening, as David Prehn (C’16), the Chair of the Honor Council, said, “what is most important for Honor Council membership is who will do the best job.” I don’t think that played a strong role in the election this year. Granted, as freshman, we do not personally know everyone who is running, but each candidate wrote a statement of intent, and those should have been read and taken seriously in order to vote for the person who would best uphold the Honor Code.

Members of the Honor Council hold positions of respect by both students and faculty alike. What does it say that mostly men hold these positions? It could mean the students trust men more and feel a stronger connection, or the students in their year had complete confidence that they would work the hardest, be fair and wise, and demonstrate the values of the University. I believe that all the members on the Council do this, but I begin to worry now that the number of women seems to be dwindling, from six women (three years ago), to five (last year), to two.

There is no way to regulate how many women and men are voted onto the Council, unless the University specifically designates an equal number of positions for men and women. This would not be a valid option, as the number of women and men who want to run fluctuate every year. It also defeats the democratic process of the elections, and does not place enough trust in the students to vote for the people who will best represent Sewanee.

This being said, please take great care when voting for people who run for this kind of position. Consider if they will dedicate themselves to the job, be passionate, considerate, and level-headed, and also if they are the best candidate. Do not vote for someone for the reason that he/she “is a cool person.” The Honor Council deserves more than that.

One thought

  1. Dear Ms. Givhan,

    I am the young man elected to the Honor Council for the advent semester in the Freshman class. I understand that yours is an opinionated article, making it particularly difficult to respond to with any credibility, but there are some key issues in the second paragraph which need to be addressed.

    I concede that I did not lead a professional campaign. My candidate statement was short, fraught with puns and jokes, and altogether non-conducive to the behavior expected of an honor council member. Likewise, I concede that the sixteen videos I posted to the Sewanee Class of 2018 Facebook page were annoying, uninformative, and geared towards gaining popularity, rather than respect. With these concessions in mind, it surprised me that I won, when there were others with fuller resumes, and far greater experience in the position I now hold.

    That being said, the fact remains that more people voted for me than for anybody else in the race. I cannot be held accountable for each of the 40 votes I received. Therefore, framing me as one “who could charm the pants off the most people in the shortest amount of time” as opposed to one “who would do the best job” misses the point. Similarly, I found the misconstruing of Honor Council President David Prehn’s (C ’16) words as a front against me to be unnecessary.

    In reading my words, know that my thoughts and opinions do not reflect the unanimous (or any) opinion of the Honor Council. I wrote this response only from my perspective. If you would like to discuss this matter in greater detail, please feel free to email me at burtowl0@sewanee.edu or meet with me in person.

    Regards,

    Will Burton-Edwards, C’18

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