Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Participation in the Religious and Educational Spheres

Participation is a fundamental part of life. But how do you qualify or quantify participation? I analyzed recruited and volunteered gender participation in two areas to adequately address the topic of gender participation in the public sphere.
            The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held their semiannual conference this past weekend, which gathers members of the LDS faith to receive inspiration and instruction from Church leaders. Both this October 2014 meeting and the April 2014 meeting had only 8% female speakers or two female speakers throughout the four general meetings. This is not a surprising occurrence for members of the LDS Church, which like the Catholic Church does not ordain women to the priesthood or clergy.
            However I found that this discrepancy in gender participation on the highest level of the LDS church, did not affect the participation of men and women members of the Church around the United States. I ran an informal observational test on the gender participation in response to LDS General Conference on the social media platform, Twitter. I conducted this test by going through the most recent 200 tweets that use #ldsconf on Monday, October 6th. I only included users that I could clearly differentiate the sex of through their user name and twitter picture. I found that there was almost an even amount of twitter participation by men and women in reaction to this church meeting. 52% of the tweets were from male twitter users, while 48% of the tweets were from female users. This illustrates that the LDS church as a whole has more equal voluntary participation than the general meeting would lead observers to believe.

       A similar story is told in the leadership at Brigham Young University. BYU has published demographic reports about the student body since 1997. BYU has had 49% or above female enrollment 14/17 of these years. I postulated before I researched this topic that BYU would have around 20-30% female leaders (a number close to the percentage of female members of Congress). I looked to data from BYUSA, the official student association, which was formed in 1988 for the purpose of serving the student body to test my hypothesis. However, I found that in the past 26 years there have only been two female presidents of BYUSA. This low ratio of female to male presidents highlights the difference in gender participation on BYU campus. But why with an approximately equal student body has BYUSA had only 2 female presidents? According to a member of BYUSA whom could not find data kept on the matter there have been many less campaigns by female students running for BYUSA president. I have no data to confirm or deny this, but this claim suggests that there is a lack of participation by female students in the political discourse of BYU. 
            There has been much discussion of classroom participation and the higher tendency for male participation in these settings (Karpowitz, Mendelberg, Oliphant 2014). Thus I decided to analyze a different type of classroom experience. I am currently enrolled in an Entrepreneurship Lecture Series course that meets once weekly for the entire semester. In this course we have leading entrepreneurs come talk to the class about how they achieved success and give general advice to students. The past three semesters (the only semesters I was able to obtain data for) there has not been a women entrepreneur who has presented to the class. The professor came up to myself and three other female students who were sitting together after class one day and thanked us for our participation. He told us that the world of entrepreneurship and BYU was severely lacking female businesswomen and that they had trouble finding qualified women to present to the class in the field of entrepreneurship.

            Why is there such a discrepancy in female and male participation at Brigham Young University? Or more importantly why should we care if women are not voluntarily participating as much in BYUSA or in entrepreneurship on BYU campus? One implication of this participation gap could be the lower rate of female graduation at BYU. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national 6-year graduation rate was 56% for males and 61% for females. It was also still higher for women than for men at both public (60% vs. 5%) and private universities (68% vs. 63%). I used the 6-year graduation data due to the fact that many BYU students chose to serve missions during their tenure at the University, and 6 years should account for this phenomenon. Each of these has at least a 5% higher graduation rate for women than men. BYU, on the other hand, has only a 1% higher graduation rate for women than men on the same 6-year graduation scale. This is not a huge difference, but is definitely something worth attention. There are possible cultural variables affecting this discrepancy as well. This supported by the data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services that reveals that Utah has the lowest graduation rates for women in the country.

            These two spheres of discourse: religious and education display male/female participation in different ways. Both have similar low levels of female participation in leadership positions whether due to recruiting bias or low voluntary involvement. However the LDS church had nearly equal amounts of participation in public discourse on a social media platform. Participation in the public discourse is important for the progression of society and for the promotion of equal and fair ideals. It is important that we realize the power of participation on not only our individual progress, but also on society as a whole.



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