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Gender breakdowns apparent in service projects

Kelly Meehan | Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sophomore Service Chairman Megan O’Hara could not help but notice that on her last community service project of taking young children to the zoo that the number of female volunteers strongly outweighed the number of male volunteers.

“There were approximately 25-30 volunteers, and only one of them was a guy,” said O’Hara. “The little kids really noticed, especially all the little boys who were looking to hang out with an older college guy.”

The zoo trip proved to be a small sampling of the reality that more females than males volunteer at Notre Dame. Data from Center for Social Concerns shows that the gender breakdown in community service ranges from 55 females and 45 males to approximately two females volunteering for every one male, depending on the type of project.

According to Jay Brandenberger of the Center for Social for Social Concerns, more than 96 percent of the student body, male and female, reported volunteering during high school.

“Students across the nation actually believe that their volunteer opportunities will decrease when then attend college, possibly since they are unaware of available options. But over 85 percent of ND students do find a way to engage in service or service-learning during their college years,” Brandenberger said.

Despite the fact that a significant percentage of the student body is active in community service work, those who partake in service opportunities at the University may notice the gender breakdown of the volunteers tends to be predominantly female.

Sophomore volunteer Katie Miller is one of several students who will volunteer in Appalachia during fall break. Miller said that there were 14 women and only four men in her Appalachian volunteer group.

“Maybe [guys] don’t feel comfortable with the programs being offered. If [Notre Dame] offered more programs that guys are interested in, they would get more involved,” Miller said.

Miller felt that men may not be interested in the opportunities to volunteer in nursing homes, soup kitchens and clothing stores, and instead they may be more prone to volunteer in a situation that required more manual labor.

“I would like to see more men involved, but I think it is great that girls are making such a strong stand,” Miller said.

However, Circle K president Eli Mims finds that her service group has an equal number of men and women volunteers. Although she does not have specific numbers for the actual volunteers, the Circle K board is made up of four men and four women.

“I think that men and women who are devoted to service reflect a portion of the population that does service because they feel responsible to give back to their communities,” Mims said. “It doesn’t seem that men and women are socialized to feel more or less responsible in this respect.”

Habitat for Humanity co-president Ryan Iafigliola said that, for the most part, his volunteers are equally split between genders.

Last weekend 30 men and 31 women worked on the project house. For the fall break project “Blitz Build,” 37 men and 21 women will partake.

“I think generally that it can be true that we have an appeal that extends readily to men; however, as I was working at the site on Saturday that ratio would be reversed,” Iafigliola said.

He also pointed out that the current construction coordinator is a female, but has been a male in the past. The Habitat board is comprised of six men and eight women, which is representative of the gender statistics in volunteer work.

The Family Liaison Committee that works directly with the family that the house is being build for is predominantly women. Iafigliola suggest this may be due to the fact that the leaders of the committee are all women.

The attempt to attract volunteers is not done by coordinators in a way that would target either gender, organizers said.

“The Center for Social Concerns consistently evaluates and explores means to attract both genders. No one strategy is sufficient,” Brandenberger said. “We do not select students for participation based on gender; in other words, for the great majority of our work, we are gender-blind in selection.”

Iafigliola does not actively recruit for Habitat for Humanity; rather he lets others know what he is about by setting up tables to share information. Habitat has no prerequisites for volunteers and always welcomes new members.

O’Hara posts volunteer opportunities in the monthly Class of 2008 e-mails and sets up tables in the dining hall, methods which do not attempt to attract one gender more than the other.

“I know a lot of guys are very committed to service, it just seems girls are more committed,” she said. “I think it might be that girls are more pro-active and girls are more motherly.”

According to the CSC, the number of female volunteers tends to outweigh male volunteers not just at Notre Dame, but also on a national level.

“I think guys will do events through their dorms, but might not go as far as going to the CSC to look for opportunities. Situations like these are not unique to Notre Dame,” Iafigliola said.

Still, O’Hara said as long as the project is done to help people, the service is being accomplished.

“Gender might only be important in cases like the zoo, where little kids feel the need to hang out with someone of their same gender,” O’Hara said. “[Gender breakdown] might also be more important depending on the nature of the project such house building or manual labor.”