Two weeks ago, in his speech for the co-presidency, Max Ambris ’19 identified a problem with the school’s current gender mandate for the position: the existing framework, which requires one male and one female co-president, excludes gender non-binary students, who do not identify with either category. The Vanguard proposes that Student Council and the administration create a non-binary category under which students can run, but continue to prohibit the election of two students from any one category.
According to Student Council’s current policy, each candidate for the presidency must run as either a boy or a girl. This rule was part of the gender mandate created in 1999 and first instituted in the elections of 2000. The mandate, advocated by then head of school Mary Newmann, was enacted by the administration without a proposal from Student Council and despite the disapproval of the majority of students, according to The Vanguard.
The advocates of the mandate cited five instances since the merger of Browne and Nichols and Buckingham in 1974 in which two male co-presidents had been elected. Between 1974 and 1996, there were only two entirely male co-presidencies: in 1984 and in 1990. The removal of Mindy Chokalingam ’97 from office due to a disciplinary violation in 1996 and the subsequent term of Eric Leslie ’97 as the sole president began a three-year streak in which no female student held the office of co-president (Leslie in ’96-97, Greg Henning and Harry Pierce in ’97-98, and Adam Reich and Nat Jacks in ’98-99). The administration installed the mandate to prevent further gender imbalance in the position.
His speech was not the first time Max has suggested that the gender mandate is outdated. Last spring, he wrote a proposal urging that the gender mandate either be eliminated altogether or that the school elect only one president. He said he believes either of these solutions would prove more inclusive to students who identify as gender non-binary, and he reported that his peers in Student Council were enthusiastic about the proposal. But his proposal never reached the summit meeting—composed of the two co-presidents, Dean of Students Rory Morton ’81, Upper School (US) Director Geoff Theobald, and Student Council Faculty Advisor Peggy Payne—where it would need approval.
Mr. Morton said that although he never saw Max’s proposal, he supported a change to the gender mandate and would entertain proposals to make the co-presidency more inclusive. He also said he believes Mr. Theobald and Ms. Upham would support tackling the issue of gender inclusivity in the office.
The Vanguard urges Student Council and the administration to take immediate action to create more categories under which students can run. The gender mandate and co-president framework are crucial in preventing an imbalance of voices within the office and thus should not be eliminated. Instead, the mandate should prohibit any two students of the same gender from being elected, regardless of how many different gender categories exist during an election.
We believe the system will be self-regulating and that students will have the integrity not to be dishonest about their gender identity to improve their chances of election. If a candidate does run under a gender with which they do not truly identify, we believe the school community will recognize the dishonesty and reject that candidate.
The Vanguard hopes the enthusiasm demonstrated by Student Council and the support demonstrated by the administration will lead to policy change. On this issue, we also support the administration in acting independently of Student Council—per the precedent of policy change to the gender mandate in 1999—if it will lead to more immediate change.