WSGA to AWS: The President’s Committee Investigation
During the politically tumultuous 1960’s, Ohio State’s Women’s Self Government Association (WSGA) faced various instances of criticism. Ranging from humorous newspaper articles to student calls for abolition of the organization, the WSGA had no shortage of opponents. Alongside the criticism of the 1960s was a nationwide trend toward the abolition of university women’s governing groups.
Increasing criticism coupled with a national trend toward disbandment led the WSGA to undergo a process of self-examination during the 1969-1970 academic year. A president’s investigatory committee was created, and eventually arrived at the conclusion that the student organization was not fulfilling the role it had set out to.
The committee based its investigation partially on whether the organization’s role was adhering to the Intercollegiate Association of Women Students’ (IAWS) definition of the role of a women’s organization. The IAWS’ definition was as follows: “…maintaining a specific organization to meet the unique educational needs of women students; allowing women to identify, explore, develop, and utilize their individual potential; and educating women so that they may fulfill their role as competent persons.” Citing a lack of educational projects, the committee concluded that WSGA was not adequately fulfilling the role of a women’s student organization as defined by the IAWS.
The committee’s conclusion that it was inadequately serving the women students of Ohio State in its current form was not only based on the IAWS’ definition, but also due to the answers derived from a list of several questions compiled by the committee early in the investigation.
The questions included:
1. What is the traditional role of WSGA?
2. Is WSGA presently fulfilling this role?
3. Does WSGA fulfill the role of a women’s organization as defined by the Intercollegiate Association of Women Students?
4. What factors have contributed to the prestige and influence of the organization?
5. Is WSGA representative of the viewpoints of the majority of the women students?
6. Is WSGA answering the needs of the majority of women students? If not, how can it better meet these needs?
7. What recommendations, including structural changes, are needed to make WSGA more effective?”
In answering these questions, the committee relied heavily on a 1957 thesis written by Carol Mae Jensen titled “The Development of Student Government at the Ohio State University.” The committee used the thesis to identify four areas of past growth for WSGA, including representation, legislation, leadership training, and self-government. As the past growth of these aspects was analyzed, the relevancy of each in the historical moment of the 1969-1970 school year was questioned. For example, “It is possible,” the committee wrote, “that the representative function is no longer paramount for WSGA.” Reflecting previous complaints against WSGA made by students, the committee recognized that other councils existed to represent students, such as the Student Assembly, and that the need for double representation of women students was perhaps unnecessary.
Questioning WSGA’s legislative role, the committee took on a relatively feminist tone in declaring that “an individual should have primary responsibility for her behavior,” and “hours will soon be a thing of the past,” meaning “the legislative function of WSGA will soon be non-existent.”
Leadership training, the committee concluded, was still a valuable asset provided by WSGA through its variety of leadership positions. The question of self-government, however, was not so simply answered. Ultimately, the group declared true self-government to be “the practice of a woman making rules for herself.” They reached the conclusion that as long as a self-governing women’s group existed, it would be “furthering the practice of in loco parentis,” preventing women students from reaching full autonomy.
Aside from internal investigation of the organization, the committee also interviewed outsiders of the group to gain their perspectives of the organization’s role. Meeting with past and present Presidents of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and the present Vice-President of USG, who were all men, the conclusion was reached that “WSGA drains leadership from the USG, and therefore weakens the potential of both organizations.” A more effective arrangement, the organizational leaders agreed, would involve WSGA’s integration into USG and women student representation on each of its committees.
Ultimately, the committee made eight concrete suggestions for changes to be made to the role of WSGA, perhaps the most significant of which was the decision for WSGA to eliminate its judicial and legislative functions and become strictly a programming organization. The other suggestions included:
- the elimination of discriminatory rules for women, strengthening of the organization’s programming aspects;
- the elimination of WSGA Board (the judicial and legislative body);
- changing the name of the organization to Associated Women Students (AWS) to reflect the switch from governing to programming;
- switching the administration of the Women’s Commission (judicial body) from WSGA to the Student Judicial Board;
- transferring rule-making abilities to the Rules Committee of the Student Assembly;
- allowing security regulation to be decided by residents of each living unit;
- and creating a council for policy decisions for the new programming-type organization.