New research conducted by the Students’ Union (SU) seeks to understand how identity effects students running in undergraduate politics at all levels. This study is the first of its kind in Canada at post-secondary institutions. The final report reveals that women and gender, sexual and racial minorities face many barriers and challenges in getting involved in student politics.

The project, conducted by the Union’s Department of Research and Political Affairs, distributed a census survey to the entire undergraduate population at the University of Alberta, receiving nearly 2,000 responses. Smaller surveys were also sent to sitting Student Councillors and Faculty Association (FA) executives, and researchers conducted interviews with the last four years of Student’s Union executives.

Researchers spent eight months collecting and analysing responses and found that women were far more likely to say that their gender has an impact on their campaigning experience for elected student positions than men. Their gender means they are far more likely to experience negative comments from potential voters or campaign volunteers. 

In campaigning, women were far more likely to report that they focused on their visual appearance in campaign events or materials than men, who stated that their appearance was not something that came up in their campaign or they thought about frequently.

Age was also a significant factor in serving in undergraduate politics, with many student politicians, particularly at the executive level, reporting that in meeting with university administrators, they are often undermined and disrespected because they are perceived as young and idealistic.

Also in meeting with other stakeholders outside student politics, both visible minorities and women both reported that they tend to “over-prepare” for others to see them as credible as their male/Caucasian counterparts.

Student Politicians from minority backgrounds reported feeling that they were often made to represent their entire identity group in their public service, putting additional pressure on them that did not appear for their male/straight/Caucasian counterparts. 

There are many findings and quotes from research participants available in the full report that is publicly available on the SU website here.