March is National Women’s History Month and the theme this year is “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.” I am not a huge fan of celebrating fill-in-the-blank month. Our identities should be discussed and celebrated daily. That being said, I have a strong passion for the promotion of girls and women furthering their educational journeys. Thus, in celebration of the National Women’s History Month theme, I submit the following comments with the disclaimer that I am a female faculty member who occasionally teaches the History of Higher Education and a course focused on social services with women clients – I am a feminist of sorts and am passionate about equity for girls and women across all aspects of society.
Dr. Susan Hockfield’s announcement that she would be stepping down from her post as the sixteenth president and first female president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology got me thinking. Since women first began enrolling in and graduating from four-year degree granting institutions, a lot of positive movement has occurred for women in higher education. At the same time a lot of work for the equity of women in colleges and universities still needs to be done. As an example, Oberlin College which has been one of the most progressive colleges in our nation, admitting women and African Americans before most institutions in this country, did not have a female president until 1994 (Dr. Nancy Schrom Dye), that is 161 years after its founding date!
As a African American female professor I stand on the shoulder of the many women before me who paved the road for women in higher education; and there is still a lot of work to do in promoting the attendance of women in college and promoting their leadership in those institutions. Currently only six of the twenty-nine public institutions of higher education in Massachusetts are led by women (Bunker Hill Community College, Cape Cod Community College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Middlesex Community College, Salem State University, and Quinsigamond Community College). According to the American Council on Education, approximately 23% of the colleges and universities around the country are led by women. New England is loosely considered the birthplace of higher education and to have less women than the national average leading our colleges and universities is a shame. Women (in particular faculty and administrators) are still relegated to the status of a minority (Sociologically speaking as defined by Richard T. Schaefer) on college and university campuses
There are many issues pertinent to women in higher education. Among those issues are: (a) the number of women enrolled in and graduating from programs in the sciences, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – although increasing, the number is still low. In 2006, 15% of all female first year students planned to major in a STEM field compared with 29% of all male first year students; the highest percentage of females in this category major in the Biological sciences; (b) full-time faculty appointment and fair pay for women faculty – AAUP’s Faculty Gender Equity Indicators report states that women make up 39% of full-timer faculty nationally compared to men who make up 61%; the same report found that “across all ranks and all institutions, the average salary for women faculty was 81% of the amount earned by men”; (c) conditions on campus for working mothers – many campuses do not have private space for lactating mothers, changing rooms for mothers who may need to bring their baby or young child on campus, and many college and university campuses do not have or partner with any type of child care facility; and (d) violence against women on college campuses – while both men and women are victims of sexual assault, women are disproportionately
So who’s working on these issues? Who cares about the status of women on college and university campuses? Anyone who is on a college or university campus should care and should make steps to work on anyone of if not all of these issues. We should not sit back and wait for AAUW or the AAUP to take action to solve these problems. Contribute to a scholarship that supports girls majoring in the sciences, math, and/or engineering; write your legislator about supporting pay equity legislation, adequate FMLA; rally campuses to have facilities that support new and working mothers (daycare centers, changing stations, lactation rooms); fight back against cultures of violence against women as promoted by college athletes, fraternities, and/or alcohol use by minors.
As part of national Women’s History Month, contribute to a scholarship that supports girls majoring in the sciences, math, and/or engineering; write your legislator about supporting pay equity legislation and an adequate Family and Medical Leave Act; rally campuses to have facilities that support new and working mothers; and fight back against cultures of violence against women as promoted by college athletes, fraternities and alcohol use by minors.
Women’s voices on college campuses are an important part of this nation’s culture and vitality. More women in the STEM fields helps the nation be more competitive internationally; equitable appointments and pay for female faculty allows for greater collegiality and productivity; support for working mothers helps to decrease absences and increase morale; and greater safety for women on campus promotes empowerment and creates an environment of mutual respect.
It is incumbent upon all of us, male and female, to take a pledge—not just this month, but on a daily basis—to become more pro-active in supporting gender equity and safety on college and university campuses.