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Navigating the Labyrinth toward College Student Government Presidency: A Phenomenological Study of Women who Run for Student Government President


In recent years in the United States, women have been outpacing men on important college outcomes such as grade point average and degree attainment. While women have made strides in the last few decades, there are still important areas of higher education in which women are significantly underrepresented. In student government, women are vastly underrepresented in the top leadership role, the president.

This study examined the experiences of college women who ran for the student government president position. Using a combination of the leadership labyrinth and human ecological systems this study sought to learn more about women’s leadership pathways into running for student government president and the contextual factors that impact that ways in which they navigate their pathways. This study took an in-depth, phenomenological approach in which data was collected through a three-part interview process with seven women who were running for student government president at their respective institutions in spring 2017.

The findings from this study suggest that pre-college and early college experiences are important for women. Specifically, the women in this study gained important leadership insights from competitive sports in high school and experiences with activism early in their college careers. Interestingly, women did not necessarily see high school student government or involvement in college student government as a precursor to running for president. Further, findings revealed that women went through a process of validating their internal sense of self as a leader with others while navigating varying levels of confidence about their perceptions of themselves and external perceptions of them as leaders. Finally, findings also suggest the women were impacted by issues related to gender and politics that surfaced during the 2016 national election and struggled with social media bullying during their campaigns. This study provides important implications for theory, faculty, and student affairs professionals who work with women and/or student government in light of these findings.

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