"Girls don't become student body president"

Cathy Sterling recalls some of the challenges she faced as the first female student body president and the general student reaction to increased female student enrollment at NC State.

Interview on 2010-11-02


00:00:00.000 There's some times now, particularly with the elections that are going on and the ads that are being run and there's just times when I
00:00:06.295 look at how people become elected officials
00:00:13.530 and how things happen at a state level and a national level that I'm sometimes sitting there going,
00:00:19.690 this is so oddly familiar.
00:00:21.955 Maybe the language is a little upgraded but this is like the same battles that happened back at State over student government.
00:00:30.576 Don't we ever evolve? [Laughs]
00:00:33.122 and there were of course a group of people that were really hostile to me for the athletics.
00:00:39.608 I was really naive about hostility.
00:00:46.577 I was raised in a religion that was very gentle and very loving and very positive
00:00:53.821 so it was like a bath in cold water to look at somebody and go but you don't like me just because of the opinion I hold?
00:00:59.673 I mean you really, really don't like me? [Laughs] You're really angry at me?
00:01:03.754 And I remember after I was elected Chancellor Caldwell had a dinner at his house for just the start of the year
00:01:13.233 and he put me at a table with a bunch of student athletes.
00:01:18.253 And they were very well behaved, but I remember going in going, I'm being fed to the lions. [Laughs]
00:01:25.879 But they weren't--. I don't know whether--. Casey was the athletic director then
00:01:33.955 and he was such a gentleman.
00:01:36.009 Any hostility that came towards me never came because he told anybody to be,
00:01:40.947 or encouraged it or supported it, and I was always very clear about that.
00:01:44.621 He was an amazing man, and he got what I said. He got it.
00:01:48.460 He didn't necessarily agree but he got it, he understood it.
00:01:51.306 But that level of hostility was really shocking,
00:01:57.726 and then there were other people that were just, this is State. Girls don't become student body president.
00:02:05.537 And there were people who outside of the university,
00:02:09.513 in fact there may be some letters in those letters I gave you.
00:02:12.066 I got a lot of nasty letters from out in the state.
00:02:17.365 Yeah, and just like, what? [Laughs] Whoa.
00:02:20.920 And then when I was elected that happened too,
00:02:24.027 but because being student body president could be seen as building that resume to go on to leadership within the state,
00:02:33.758 and you know, for me, I mean women weren't going anywhere, right? I was going to get married, make babies, and stay at home.
00:02:40.559 Why would I do such a--? It was perceived as a taking away of something that by right belonged to some guy.
00:02:49.171 ut not me, not me. This was State. Maybe UNC,
00:02:54.165 nd if you go back in that time and look at the issues with UNC,
00:03:01.723 I remember Jesse Helms could say it in a way that I could never be able to say it: liberal. [Sounds like "libral"]
00:03:09.021 It's "libral". There were all these battles going on at UNC about free speech and things like that that just didn't touch State,
00:03:19.599 not until we got liberal arts, and that was, I think,
00:03:23.944 the big wakeup call for State in terms of joining that larger community of universities.
00:03:31.027 By making this choice they were going to experience the same things at the same time, but they did it at a time that was just at the beginning of this incredible time
00:03:41.277 in universities and student activists
00:03:44.837 on campus, so it's not like they even got ten years of quiet time-- [Laughs]
00:03:48.624 --so they could kind of get used to girls being here, or women being here.
00:03:54.359 But it was just like boom, boom, boom. [All at once.] All at once.
00:03:57.915 So they went through quite a process, a baptismal. [Laughs]