NMU soars in female leadership

Chelsea Birdsall

College-aged females are stepping up and taking a large share of leadership roles on campuses nationwide.

NMU is no exception to this trend. Several campus organizations, such as Women for Women, Associated Students of Northern Michigan University (ASNMU) and the Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP), are seeing a significant amount of female leadership. Other groups, like the Black Student Union, are experiencing leadership from both genders.

Victoria Kerlin, a leadership program coordinator in the SLFP office, said she thinks one reason behind female prominence is a general uplift in confidence brought on by the emergence of women’s rights.

“Leadership roles aren’t gender specific. Recently though, women are putting forth confidence and realizing they can make a change,” Kerlin said. “With women’s rights being so prominent, we’re not afraid anymore.”

ASNMU President Lindsey Lieck and Vice President Liz Dow are examples of gender barriers being broken down. Dow said though it was intimidating at first, she loves holding a position that white males would normally get.

“Typically, leadership roles are left for white males,” Dow said. “As a female, I hold a leadership position in our student government, which I hope encourages other females to dream big and hold other leadership positions.”

The ASNMU general assembly consists of 11 females and five  males, reflecting strong female participation. The female staff that leads NMU is responsible for the female student leadership, Lieck said.

“I attribute some of my drive to the great mentorships I have at NMU,” Lieck said. “I see strong female leaders engaged and passionate about leadership and it drives me to expand to new levels as a leader and break boundaries as a female leader.”

Faculty role models are something Women For Women co-presidents Tiffani Haught and Sarah Eggleston said they credit for their leadership qualities. Women for Women is an  on-campus group working to promote equality between men and women, especially when it comes to leadership roles, Eggleston said.

Haught listed assistant vice president and dean of students Chris Greer, associate dean of students Mary Brundage and assistant dean of students Lina Blair as her role models.

When asked about how it feels to be a role model, Greer said she doesn’t even think of herself that way and just does her job to the best of her abilities.

“When students tell me I’m a role model for them, I feel humbled and honored and a bit like an imposter—why would anyone think I’m a role model?” Greer said. “Do not succumb to the imposter syndrome because you can do it. You have every right to be where you are and you can be successful.”

Rachel Harris, the director of the Center for Student Enrichment, which provides students with opportunities and experiences to help develop skills required to be an effective leader, has been employed by NMU for 20 years.

In addition, Harris co-chairs the President’s Committee on Diversity, which considers gender one of the issues of diversity; serves on the Gender Working Group, a group focused on women’s issues for NMU; and co-chairs the search for the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a first time position at NMU.

Harris said she has always noticed an active female presence on campus, especially in regard to SLFP. Each year, SLFP faculty see an 80-20 ratio in favor of women entering into the leadership program. Harris attributes this to feminism and leadership opportunities.

“I think it’s both the feminist movement and the opportunities offered that are encouraging women to actively seek leadership roles,” Harris said. “The literature says this isn’t just at NMU—it’s nationwide. All across the country, women are engaging more than ever.”

Feminism, as agreed on by Haught and Eggleston, is simply equality. Haught used one of her favorite quotes to describe what feminism means to her.

“Amy Poehler said it best in the last season of Parks and Recreation. ‘If you want to go out and run the world, you should be able to feel like you can do that. If you want to stay home and have kids, you should be able to feel like you can do that. And if you want to do both, you should be able to feel like you can do that and nobody should be judging anybody else for their choices.”

Haught said feminism has been shown in a bad light, but if utilized correctly, is a great instructional tool.

“You don’t stop doing stuff the right way because you see a few people doing it the wrong way,” Haught said. “We should still use our feminism as a way to show girls this is how you really do this, this is what we really stand for, this is what we’re about.”

Eggleston agreed with her co-president and added that it should be looked at by the message, not the name.

“Don’t look at it like ‘feminism.’ Open your eyes to what we’re actually doing, not just what you think we’re doing,” Eggleston said.

Black Student Union Co-President Jeulani Gahiji is sharing her reign with Co-President Andre Stringer. Gahiji said she believes self-respect is all it takes to propel in the right direction.

“You can’t be discouraged by naysayers regarding female competence. You have to keep moving forward. We can do whatever we set our minds to and that’s that,” Gahiji said. “When you walk into a room, demand respect and nothing less. It may be hard or feel odd, but when you respect yourself, others will have no choice but to respect you as well.”

Strong female role models and the increase of confidence granted by women’s rights and feminism attribute significantly to female leadership on NMU’s campus. This begs the question of where have all the men gone and why aren’t they participating in campus leadership?

-Editor’s note: This article is the first in a two part series. For part two,  please see next week’s issue for Sept. 29, 2015.