She Can, She Will campaign seeks to increase female leadership on campus

‘It’s not enough until it’s 50/50’

Photos courtesy of Keith Klenowski | The She Can, She Will campaign collected a diverse group of ambassadors, some of whom are shown above. The ambassadors’ photos and stories are displayed both on the campaign’s website and social media accounts.

She Can, She Will kicked off its campaign to inspire female leaders on campus on March 12 with a video detailing the journeys of five students — Aimee Boivin, Talor Crawford, Zeina Farhat, Lia Mazzarella and Ese Obrimah.

Each of the women spoke about their varied experiences, from being told that she couldn’t have gotten into law school to having professors comment on her hair and jewelry instead of the quality of her presentation. All five expressed the same sentiment: They had struggled with a lack of respect, a lack of a sense of belonging and a lot of hardships to assume leadership positions.

The video ends with a declaration that “It’s not enough until it’s 50/50” in reference to leadership roles throughout the university. She Can, She Will, according to its mission statement, “is made by Xavier women for Xavier women. We aim to inspire female students to reach their full potential and expose the current gender gaps at the highest levels of leadership on campus and beyond.”

The campaign has origins, in part, in the work of Dr. Leah Busam Klenowski, the senior director for Student Affairs and Student Involvement. Her doctoral thesis involved research into women in the highest leadership positions on campus.

“I know that I care about women in leadership,” Busam Klenowski said, “and I’m looking around and I’m saying, ‘Why am I seeing women leading everywhere on this campus, but they’re not leading in student government?’”

As part of her research, she interviewed women who had run for positions within the Student Government Association (SGA), including Farhat and Boivin. Her work inspired the two seniors to reflect further upon their leadership experiences and ultimately launch the campaign.

“(Busam Klenowski) planted a seed of, ‘Wow, this isn’t just an issue this year, it’s been an issue every single year, not just student government,’” Farhat said.

For example, Farhat detailed what it was like to attend an Emerging Leaders Initiative meeting, whose attendees were mostly female, and then think about her own role as the president of SGA. Since 1999, only six women have held the position.

“I looked around the room, and there were 21 attendees that were students. 20 of them were female, one of them was a man. Beside me there were six speakers. Five of them were women, and one of them was a male. And I just kept thinking, ‘Why is it that in this particular position (as SGA president), the highest held student elected position?’ Women do not touch that position,” Farhat said. “Women are the ones who are engaged, they’re the ones who are involved, but they don’t reach for the top. And why not? They’re the most qualified people to do it…I walked in the next day to (Busam Klenowski’s) office.”

Boivin and Farhat then went on to form She Can, She Will with the goal of inspiring more women to touch those top leadership roles on campus. Boivin described it as trying to “break that barrier” exemplified at that meeting. As Farhat stated, even though most leadership positions across campus are generally occupied by women, men continue to dominate the highest positions.

“We hold the majority of leadership positions, but we don’t shoot for the stars,” Farhat said.

As part of the formation process, the organizers collected diverse ambassadors for the movement.

“The group of women that we chose are from all types of backgrounds,” Farhat said. “They all have different ideologies, but the thing that connects them all is that they held leadership positions, and they all believe in women empowerment.”

Images of the ambassadors and their stories are currently displayed on the campaign’s website and social media accounts. The website also includes a pledge to be an ally for women.

Busam Klenowski said that the overarching question women ask themselves when it comes to leadership positions is “Is it worth it?” She continued that for a lot of women, the role of SGA president doesn’t seem worth it. For Farhat in particular, that makes She Can, She Will’s mission all the more important.

“I wanted to be SGA president, and there were so many times when I almost didn’t. I almost was vice president, and it took somebody telling me, ‘Don’t sell yourself short,’” Farhat said. “Not everyone has those people in their lives to tell them that. It’s about recognizing your capability, recognizing your worth — that you’re qualified and you are good enough to run for the highest position. I think She Can, She Will aims…to provide a network of support for mentorship. So we’re trying to give that to women.”

Social media data indicate a positive campus reception. This past week, the website has received more than 600 unique visitors, and the video received more than 2,000 views on Facebook. Views across other platforms total in the thousands, and the Instagram account currently has more than 350 followers. More information can be found here.

By: Brittany Wells ~Staff Writer~