It took nearly 30 years, but Notre Dame finally has its first female student body president.
Junior Brooke Norton, this past year’s student body vice president, took office April 1 along with running mate Brian Moscona, a sophomore. They won 56 percent of the vote in a run-off election in February.
“I hope I was elected as the best person for the job, but I am extremely honored to be the first woman for the job,” Norton said.
Norton is a government major who grew up in Glendora in Southern California and attended Saint Lucy’s Priory, an all-female Catholic high school. It happened that the run-off came a few days before the start of Junior Parents Weekend, so her parents flew out a day early to hear the results.
“We were all crying,” she says. “It was a really proud moment for all of us.”
No count has been kept of how many women have run for student body president since Notre Dame first admitted women undergraduates in 1972, but one senior in student government estimated there had been at least one or two per year during his time. There were two other female presidential candidates in the six-ticket primary Norton and Moscona won before advancing to the run-off. Including Norton, nine women have been elected student body vice president.
Whatever cultural change the election of a female president might signal is tempered by the fact that the run-off drew only 40 percent of eligible voters, slightly below the primary. On the other hand, the turnout for student body elections is higher at Notre Dame than on most other college campuses.
Despite its historical significance, gender was not a hot issue in this year’s election, nor has it been or in recent years. In fact, it’s likely that many current students were not even aware that Notre Dame had never had a female president.
Undoubtedly some did vote for Norton with the intent of breaking the 29-year gender barrier, but supporters also cited her experience. Soon after arriving on campus she was elected to Freshman Class Council. She held various other student government posts before being elected vice president spring semester sophomore year. (Student government terms run April to April.)
“I knew that if Brooke won she would be the first female, but that’s not why I voted for her,” says sophomore Theresa Do. “I had worked with her and Brian [Moscona] on class council and was very impressed with their leadership skills. With Brooke an idea wasn’t just an idea, she would really take action and follow through with it.”
The student body president chairs various student organizations, but the primary duties of the office are to represent students at functions and be a conduit to the administration.
Norton says she has never considered herself a “very political” person, and she is leaning more toward a career in journalism than politics. She also says she didn’t run for vice president thinking it would be a stepping-stone to the presidency.
“I just wanted to see what the job was like and if I thought I was the best person for it, I would do it.” She almost didn’t.
“It was a really hard decision to make. I actually didn’t decide until I went home for Christmas break this year,” which was two months before the election. She says she realized that if she won she would be making history at the University, “and there is a lot riding on that.”
Norton says she often prayed about the decision at the Grotto, where she noticed the inscribed rock placed there four years ago by Notre Dame’s first female class on the 25th anniversary of coeducation.
“I’ve thought a lot about that first class of women here and how much pressure they faced. They had to prove that women could add something worthwhile to Notre Dame. I now feel a small amount of that pressure.”