Multiple female senators spoke out against what they see as a sexist environment in GUSA, partially created by male senators speaking over them and not giving them space to lead, at their meeting on Nov. 15.
Sexism in GUSA is an ongoing problem that contributes to the lack of representation of women in leadership and the mistreatment of women who are elected. While some have suggested the success of progressive candidates in the most recent Senate election would help solve this problem, the senators at the meeting emphasized that more needs to be done.
Sens. Kariel Bennett (COL ’23) and Makayla Jeffries (COL ‘23) initiated the conversation, which was one of the first times the full Senate has openly discussed sexism in the institution, emphasizing that if women continued to face persistent sexism in GUSA, they would be more vocal about the individuals at fault.
Vice Speaker Melanie Cruz-Morales (COL ’22) also spoke about her experiences with sexism in the Senate. Despite the new makeup of the 15th Senate, the persistent male domination of the Senate has not been resolved, she explained in an interview with the Voice.
“We are the most diverse, most progressive Senate in Georgetown history, but that doesn’t indicate that everything is fine,” she said. “The Senate has been very known for its toxic environment, and things like that don’t change overnight.”
The Senate has previously been critiqued by senators and students for creating a working environment that fosters racism and sexism. Senators have resigned or opted not to run for reelection as a result, such as former senator Zahra Wakilzada (COL ’23) who dropped out of the most recent Senate reelection race citing concerns that the Senate did not take women of color’s experiences seriously.
“Women get overlooked,” Cruz-Morales said. “Men constantly take up space that should be left for other people.”
“Women of color, specifically Black women, continue to be the ones who are continuously disregarded,” she added.
Men often do not support women’s initiatives within the Senate, which is detrimental to them completing projects to help the student body, Cruz-Morales said. Some male senators also expect women in the Senate to do administrative or secretarial work instead of working on policy projects, she added.
“We have amazing women who are very excited to get to work. What we want is to be taken seriously, not as administrative workers, not as secretaries, but to be the leaders who guide change at Georgetown through GUSA,” she said.
While her remarks at the meeting did not spark any broader conversations in the Senate, Cruz-Morales believes the women who spoke out were successful in prompting men to consider whether they have contributed to sexism. “A lot of times men don’t reflect on their own actions and think how they might impact other women or how other women might interpret them,” she said. “A lot of men were caught off guard and have been oblivious to their own wrongdoings.”
To fix these problems, Cruz-Morales said men in the Senate should be conscious of sexism and actively highlight women’s achievements. “Men need to take into account how much space they take up and how that limits a lot of women from doing the things they want to do,” she said. “[They should] highlight the amazing work women are doing and celebrate that and encourage them.”
None of the women who spoke at the meeting directed their comments at individual senators. However, Cruz-Morales said she and others will not hesitate to call people out if their behavior continues.
“We wanted to address [sexism in GUSA] in a very healthy environment where no drama is created,” she said. “But the next time anything happens, we won’t be quiet about it, because for a long time, women have been silenced.”
The Senate will hold its next meeting Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. EST over Zoom.