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It’s an intimidating role and time-consuming task for any college student. Twenty-year-old Karen Donoghue was entrusted with a $290,000 budget and the huge responsibility of planning events and activities for all Fairfield undergrads, maintaining a disciplinary court and representing student interests in front of the school’s top administrators.

Ten years ago, Donoghue became the first woman to ever have the title of FUSA president. The Mirror’s headline following her election referenced “shattering the glass ceiling.”

But now, Donoghue – Fairfield’s Dean of Students – remains only one of two women to ever hold the office of the president of FUSA on a campus where women students outnumber the men.

Will the FUSA presidential election 2012 be more of the same?

Matt Dinnan, the senior associate dean of students and director of university activities, acknowledges that women are very involved in leadership roles on campus even though only two women have ever held the highest position.

“Despite there being a larger undergraduate female population and despite the fact that there are more females engaged in leadership positions at Fairfield, the candidates running for FUSA president trend towards the male population,” Dinnan said.

Donoghue was elected president with a student population that was 56 percent female. Yet with a total of 59 percent women on campus today, there has yet to be another female FUSA president since Jessica DiBuono graduated in 2006.

The first woman to become the president of FUSA continues her work of improving the Fairfield community today, through her role as the current Dean of Students.

Donoghue ’03 didn’t expect to play a part in FUSA history when she first came to campus. She was the president of her high school and, upon arriving on campus, successfully ran to be the president of her freshman class. However, she did not seriously consider becoming FUSA president until her junior year.

With no woman ever before serving as FUSA president, Donoghue remembers thinking, “this could be great for the institution, in particular for the female gender.” However, these were not her only motives in seeking the presidency. She also aspired to better the institution, the same as any man would hope to.

“I think people tried to put that pressure on me,” she recalls, “like I should do x, y, and z [because I am a woman].” However, “it is the same as if a male had been in that role, and I had to work to the best of my abilities.”

Donoghue was elected at a difficult time for Fairfield, with the cuts of both the football and ice hockey teams coming shortly after she assumed office. She arranged a forum with Fr. Kelley to provide an opportunity for the students to discuss the shocking announcement. She was also involved in instituting peer academic advising, a program that is still utilized today.

She fondly remembers her time as a student, especially her exciting campaign and nail-biting victory. Donoghue and another male candidate beat two other men in the primary, which then incited a two-week campaign of knocking on doors and hanging up signs. Her direct competition was not only male, but was also endorsed by The Mirror, an obstacle that didn’t deter Donoghue from her presidential aspirations.

Donoghue describes the announcement of the election results as one of her favorite moments at Fairfield. “They were supposed to announce the results at 11, then they pushed it back to 12, but it was so close and there were so many write-ins that they counted until one in the morning. About 100 of us marched to the campus center to hear the results.”

And the final count was equally dramatic; Donoghue won by a margin of only 11 votes. This important moment for women on campus was documented in a New York Times article, but despite all the publicity, she is most proud of the opportunity this provided to women to know they can be leaders.

Bringing the conversation to the present day, however, she concludes by posing a valid question, “Why aren’t women running?”

James Fitzpatrick ’70, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, recalls the first time a woman even ran for the title of FUSA president wasn’t until 1991. Three years before Donoghue’s election, a female lost by only nine votes. However, women have been dramatically underrepresented in both the number of presidential candidates and actual FUSA presidents since they were first admitted to Fairfield in 1970.

Communication Prof. David Gudelunas, the Director of Women’s Studies, believes that women should be represented in all aspects of student life, including the role of FUSA president. “It is critical that women’s voices be heard in all matters of University life. Women bring a different perspective and skills to the democratic process and it is vital that they be heard. We have amazingly talented women leaders within our student body and I hope they heed the call to participate in student government.”

Many women hold some of the highest positions within FUSA, but are hesitant to run for president for reasons that are not associated with gender.

Nicoletta Richardson ’14, the FUSA Senate Chair of the Academic Committee, doesn’t intend on ever seeking the office of the president. “It is a large responsibility. You have to publicly put yourself out there and please the students, whereas in another position, you’re not the visual head and you can do your work privately.”

Kalee Brunelle ’14, the FUSA Senate Vice Chair, agrees with Richardson. “When something goes wrong, everyone blames you,” she explains of her reason for not considering the presidency.

Director of Class Council for the class of 2014, Laura Ballanco says, “I don’t want to run because it takes over your life. You have to be dedicated to FUSA first and then class comes second, and I want to focus on my academics and not have FUSA take over my life.”

Will a female candidate emerge in the coming weeks, as the FUSA election season kicks into gear? Election day is quickly approaching on February 28.

Donoghue is optimistic, but, male or female, “I would love for people to be as passionate about FUSA elections.”

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