Hawkeyes set in motion Iowa nonprofit 50-50 student organization

University of Iowa students are prepping to launch a new student group called 50-50, the mission of which is reaching equal gender representation in Iowa government.


Tate Hildyard

The student group 50/50 meets in the IMU on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. 50/50 is an organization intended to promote female representation in politics.

Mary Hartel, News Reporter

A group of women leaders on campus set in motion a student organization slated to begin this fall that aims to continue a mission set by two former Iowa senators to elect women lawmakers.

Headed by UI senior Sarah Henry, the UI Student Government vice president, UI 50-50 stems from 50-50 in 2020, a now-dissolved Iowa nonprofit two female former Iowa senators launched in 2009 that aimed for equal representation of women in the Iowa Legislature by 2020.

The nonpartisan group didn’t reach its goal but made strides in 2018, when Iowa elected its first female governor and two female U.S. representatives. Less than half of Iowa’s state lawmakers are women; 11 out of 50 senators are female and 34 women represent seats in the 100-person House, according to the most recent tally by Iowa State University’s Gender Balance Project.

Henry said students from any background are encouraged to join UI 50-50 if they are interested in gender equity, civil service, and public advocacy.

“There are a lot of people really dedicated to the cause,” Henry said. “…but the student organization will be a good way to pull those people together.”

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Henry noted that both the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University have developed 50-50 student organizations on their campuses.

The developing group first met Feb. 27 to help identify students ready to take on leadership positions within the organization, Henry said, and make a plan for moving forward.

“I’ll be able to help start it, but then I’ll graduate, so we’ll have to find people to transfer it off to,” Henry said.

Henry added that she anticipates limitless possibilities for the future of the organization at the UI.

“… [On] this campus especially, people can find passions and then really latch on and take them past graduating,” Henry said. “So, it would be great to just get more people invested and making sure that the people who are elected to represent them are representative in terms of gender equity.”

UI freshman Samantha Stucky, a UISG senator, attended the group’s first gathering and said she thinks the organization’s mission is important for encouraging everyone on campus to engage in politics.

“When you don’t have certain people at the table, their issues are viewed as less important than others, and I think that women, politically, sometimes have their voices a little hushed, and I think we should be loud and proud about our opinions — whatever that may be,” Stucky said.

Henry said one unique aspect of 50-50 is how it is not geared toward partisanship or policy.

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“… They don’t talk about ways you should lean, ways you should vote, things you should think,” Henry said. “It’s really just breaking down those barriers that, as women, we all face and creating a sense of community, because I think, especially in politics, different opinions can really divide people, and I think no matter your views on things it’s so much more beneficial when you can have a supportive community around you.”

Stucky said that, as a freshman, she has high hopes for the group’s future.

“I hope that it grows and I hope that it’s able to serve women who might not know that they’re interested in politics and help them find ways to be able to discuss their opinions and discuss their values, and I really want it to be a place where people feel included and we get more diversity and intersectionality in what’s going on,” she said.

Erika Christiansen, assistant director for UI Leadership, Service, and Civic and Engagement, said the current interest and willingness of the 50-50 group is something very special, even though it cannot become an official student organization until fall 2020.

Christiansen, who was part of initial conversations for the organization’s foundation, said its primary purpose will be expanding on the work of the overarching 50-50 in 2020 organization and determining what that looks like on the UI campus.

“We’ve just been continuing the conversation,” Christiansen said.