Madame President: Vanderbilt Edition

Who run the world? Female students dominate student organizations on campus, hear what they have to say about leading their peers.

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Madame President: Vanderbilt Edition

VSG President Frances Burton speaks at Founder's Walk 2019.

VSG President Frances Burton speaks at Founder's Walk 2019.

Hunter Long

VSG President Frances Burton speaks at Founder's Walk 2019.

Hunter Long

Hunter Long

VSG President Frances Burton speaks at Founder's Walk 2019.

Sahanya Bhaktaram

When looking for strong female leaders, one does not have to stray far from Vanderbilt’s campus. Teeming with umbrella organizations led by female presidents, it goes without saying that there is significant merit, passion and ability behind our women in power. According to Anchor Link’s directory, around 60% of all Vandy student organizations are led by women.

“The student organizations that our office directly advises now have women in the highest leadership positions,” Director of Student Organizations DeAnte’ Smith said in an email to The Hustler.I think it shows that female-identifying students feel empowered on our campus to seek leadership positions in every student organization, from newly registered to more established clubs on our campus.”

Rachel Miles, president of the Interfaith Council (IFC), emphasized the positives of Vanderbilt’s student climate this year when it comes to female leadership. Despite being the underdogs, women leverage their strength through numbers by working to create inclusive work environments, she said. 

“If I am being forgotten or being left out of the conversation, the women around me bring me in, and we lift each other up,” Miles said.

Vanderbilt Dance Marathon (VUDM) president Hayden Hunt said that despite the daunting responsibility of her role, she never felt that her gender kept her from achieving her goals. In fact, being female may have prepared her even more for a powerful role, she said. 

“Making the decision to become president and pushing myself to take on that role was the biggest, toughest decision I have had to make at Vandy,” Hunt said. “It makes sense that I am a girl and a leader because I believe women have such a capacity to be leaders and figureheads. My parents raised me to know that I could do whatever I want to do, and so I’ve never thought that I couldn’t achieve something because I am a woman.”

Multicultural Club president Olivia Dominguez touched on the difficulties that come with owning leadership power due to unfair gender stereotypes. In particular, she noted the pressure many women feel to apologize unnecessarily. Through her journey with leadership roles at Vanderbilt, Dominguez has taken back her power and advises girls growing up today to do the same.  

“Only apologize when it’s necessary, and give better apologies. I used to say sorry for every little thing but I’ve started to say things like ‘thank you for your patience.’ The less that I apologize the more empowered I feel and the less I feel like I gave up something of myself,” Dominguez said.

Miles also gave advice on how to navigate being a leader at Vanderbilt, emphasizing the importance of growth as women assume these roles. She names humility as a trait she strives to practice and one that she sees as a critical element of leadership.

“We should actively acknowledge how much more we have to learn. You can and should be learning and unlearning things all the time even if it’s a painful process and just be humble,” Miles said. 

Although gender equity on campus has made immense progress, there is still a long way to go. VSG’s student body president Frances Burton still finds that while many of her female peers have assumed student leadership positions in on-campus organizations, she is often one of the few females in the room when dealing with administration.

“It can be disheartening because I care so much about female leadership and want those rooms to be equal, if not more female,” she said. “It’s also empowering because as females in those rooms, we need to express ourselves and make sure our perspectives are being listened to. It encourages me to be more confident and be really strong in the perspectives that I bring to the table. I feel a bit of an onus to make sure I can be a strong female leader.”

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