St. Olaf College’s student government history has been marked by strong women. In 1916 the Women’s Student Government Association (WSGA), formerly known as the Girl’s Union, came to being the start of student government on campus. A committee from the Men’s Council advocated for the creation of a formal Student Senate in 1922. The Men’s Council began in 1920, and was primarily concerned with matters of conduct surrounding honor. Later, it was renamed the Men’s Honor Council — a precursor to the Honor Council currently operating on campus. In 1957, a joint Student Parliament was formed and a Men’s Senate was created to work alongside a reformed Women’s Senate.
Reflecting back on this system, it is perhaps difficult to see why a progressive school like St. Olaf would separate the student government between two genders. St. Olaf has long been proudly co-educational. It is tempting to believe that, because there are no longer separate governments, all genders at St. Olaf are treated equally. Despite being welcomed to study here, women in the past were governed by a different code of conduct for decades, and women now are constantly met with situations that called for representatives to face the administration in order to overturn restrictive policies. Because there is no longer a specific governmental association to represent and protect the rights of St. Olaf women, it is now the responsibility of all students to work to promote the welfare of historically oppressed genders.
There has been significant progress since the days of WSGA. The number of powerful and influential women representing students has not dwindled. Currently, Gretchen Ellis ’23 is serving as vice president alongside several female senators and executive members. Two years ago, Melie Ekunno ‘21 and Imani Mosher ‘21 were serving as president and vice president. With the ongoing involvement of women in student government, the college continues to be shaped by the voices of powerful women.