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Why does my math class have so few girls?

in Caps Not Crosby/Columns/Opinions by

Why does my math class have so few girls? Why did the engineering department here have only one female professor last year? These are the types of questions many girls in S.T.E.M. at Swat tend to ask ourselves. Issues of underrepresentation of women in S.T.E.M. fields don’t start at Swat. By the time students arrive here, they have already been influenced by these disciplines’ implicit and explicit biases. It is the presence of such biases, most of which begin to heighten during middle and high school, that is constantly deterring women from pursuing computational fields, and it is imperative that institutions begin to tackle these biases head on.

In high schools across the United States, boys are dominating the higher-level classes in fields of math and applied mathematics.  Approximately 2.1 million girls and only 1.75 million boys took A.P. exams in varying subjects in 2013; however, in A.P. exams in fields of math and applied mathematics, boys outnumbered girls by strikingly large margins. Despite the fact that girls take a significantly greater percentage of all A.P. exams, boys still take more exams in all S.T.E.M.-related fields. The fact that more boys are taking these exams indicates that boys outnumber girls by a large margin in A.P. classes — high school classes usually at the highest level in any given subject — concerning S.T.E.M.-related fields.

Taking these A.P. classes in a subject will naturally increase the likelihood that a student will major in that subject in college. While some math majors at Swat do start in Math 15, it is far easier to complete the major if they come in with A.P. credit, and a student will naturally gravitate towards subjects in which they feel they possess more confidence and ability.

One of the main reasons many of the speakers cited that is keeping women out of the profession are the implicit biases — negative mental attitudes towards a group that people hold at an unconscious level.  Teachers perpetuate these biases unconsciously while teaching, and they will often go unnoticed by all until they are brought to attention. A student’s subconscious will pick up things that they do not actually know they are internalizing.  

With both information and experience in mind, I have compiled a list of suggestions for improving the ways in which institutions treat women. All schools and universities should ensure that they have 50 percent female teachers in mathematics and fields such as physics and economics which require the application of mathematics. All standardized testing involving mathematics and fields of applied mathematics must not permit test-takers to bubble in their gender until after they have already taken the test.

All students should be told two statements at the beginning of their middle school careers. The first is that brains are as malleable as plastic, and anyone has the ability to learn anything regardless of their race, class, or gender. The second is that gender plays no role in the ability for a child to learn any subject, and that the stereotypes surrounding the idea that boys are naturally better at math are 100 percent false.  

For every famous male mathematician a teacher mentions in class, teachers must also mention a female mathematician. I have heard my math teachers for years go on and on about men such as Euler, Pythagoras, and Taylor.  I have never been in a math class where the teacher mentioned the name of a famous female mathematician. Though the discoveries of the men listed above may be more relevant to the lesson than the discoveries of Hypata or Maryam Mirzakhani — the first woman to win the Fields Medal — only mentioning male names sends the message to the subconscious of females that women are lacking something instrumental to the possession of a great mathematical mind.  Simply mentioning a brilliant female mathematician will help derail this implicit bias. Elementary, middle, and high schools should have posters up in their hallways and classrooms of brilliant women in mathematics as role models for students.

Teachers and school administrators in math and fields of applied mathematics must do the following: read literature on the implicit biases that work against girls in their fields.  They must be aware of these biases so as never to reproduce or ignite them. For example, a teacher should never make the statement, “girls think differently,” or “girls show their skills in different ways.”

A teacher or professor must never say the following statements to a girl studying math: “I do not understand why you are not getting this.” “You are not good at conceptual math.” “You just don’t have the intuition.” Math teachers must never attribute the success of one student to “natural ability” while attributing the success of another to “hard work,” as that distinction implicitly conveys a distinction between the two students even if they are performing at the same level.

Finally, I believe that it is critical for teachers and professors to emphasize that natural talent, whether or not male students have it inherently, is not necessary in order for a student to excel at mathematics.

Swat, for the most part, does a better job than my high school did at trying to defuse some of the already ingrained biases against women in S.T.E.M. fields. My Linear Algebra professor freshman year did an excellent job with this, emphasizing to the entire class from day one that just because people don’t look like you in this field doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it. I am not arguing that female S.T.E.M. students need their hands held or to be told they can do it, I am simply advocating for the ability to work in a slightly less bias-ridden environment. As a Computer Science and English double major, I do not even know which field I would like to pursue after college.  I simply want the ability for girls to choose math to exist untainted by harmful societal perceptions, biases, and stereotypes.

With the changes proposed above, girls will not have to walk into a math class and feel inhibited by their gender, and I believe that every student deserves to walk into a math class without feeling like they are at a disadvantage before they even begin to solve problems.  Removing implicit biases, stereotype threat, and media influences that keep girls out of mathematics will result in more girls in the higher level math classes in high schools, and subsequently, more girls with the ability to realize their potential in mathematics.

When constantly bombarded with the ubiquitous and pernicious images conveying a lack of intelligence surrounding their gender, young girls are socialized to believe that they are inferior intellectually, and thus incapable of tackling the hard problems.  We are severely limiting ourselves and our society based on perceptions created by the media and stereotypes perpetrated implicitly by teachers and institutions.

What It Is and What It Isn’t

in Campus Journal by

It’s interesting how you can think one way about a particular thing and then learn something that blows your mind, leaving you to question so many different things. This happened to me this week, and it’s a lot of fun when this happens because your mind is being stretched in ways that you didn’t think were possible, but it also stinks because it is the only thing you can think about. Thank you, Lisa Wade, for making this the best-worst, intellectually stimulating week yet.

For those of you who do not know, Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and author of the recently published book American Hookup, which is about the emergence of sex culture on college campuses. I, myself, have not read this book but a friend of mine highly recommended it to me, so it’s on my list. However, I have recently entered a new era in my life which includes listening to podcasts, and I stumbled across two featuring  Lisa Wade that made me think about hookup culture from a different perspective. With that being said, I highly recommend listening to “Hookup Culture with Lisa Wade” and “Hookup Culture: The Unspoken Rules of Sex On College Campuses”.

There is something about hookup culture that I both love and hate, which leaves me in a really confusing place. I am a firm believer in experimenting with other people to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Do you like girls or do you like guys? Do you like sex a little rougher or a little softer? Lights on or lights off? Hooking up allows for individual growth as it is an experience that ultimately leads to self discovery. So, with all of this positivity I have towards hook ups, why do they leave me feeling so dirty? And Lisa Wade helped me finally answer this question that I’ve been asking since my junior year of high school: it’s not the physical part of the interaction that bothers me, but rather the culture that surrounds it.

Hookup culture itself is a relatively new form of socialization that arose in the 1920s. This is the period of time when the rise of industrialization attracted people away from rural parts of the country to cities. This change of setting allowed for the hookup culture to take root and flourish due to the close proximities in which people were now living. Along with this, cities offered nightlife, which is where the culture of hookups ultimately began. Also, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, helped influence the women’s movement of 1960, often called the Second Wave. This 1960s movement pushed for more equality for women. This equality would grant women more freedom outside of the house, encouraging more sexual freedom since women were then allowed to publicly embrace their body and sexuality, adding to the hookup culture. So, like I said, hookup culture is a relatively new phenomenon. But, before I go any further, I want to make it known to my audience that I will be focusing on heterosexual hookups… as that culture bothers me most and is the one that Lisa Wade talks about in the mentioned podcasts. There are, of course, similarities between same-sex and opposite-sex hookups, but I will be focusing on and critiquing that of opposite-sex hookups.

Examining the society in which we all live today, we embrace masculinity; not the “looks” of it but rather its normalities. However, when a girl crosses the gender boundary and takes on more masculine characteristics and lifestyle, she is looked down upon. There is a clear distinction between the roles and expectations that men and women are supposed to embody. However, when thinking of the qualities that are most rewarded and looked upon highly in our society, they are the traits and qualities that embody masculinity. Since men are the “most” ideal humans, as they contain the most “ideal” traits, it is they who women should follow; it is they who should lead. This attitude seeps into the infrastructure and culture of hookups that normalize the idea that men should “choose” who to hook up with, not women. These thoughts and ideas in our heads soon become actions, creating the hookup culture that I have come to hate.

It is the so-called “script” that the majority of hookup participants follow, myself included. It first begins with the girl wanting to be desired by the guy so that he chooses her. Maybe her shorts will be a little shorter, shirt a little tighter, boobs pushed up a bit — I mean heck I’ve done this before, and I know I’m not the only one. Then what follows next is the guy comes up from behind and latches onto the girl, and she looks around and if her friends nod in approval, she goes for him. We did this in high school, and, honestly, it did not even phase me because that is normal. Our society embraces the man and what he embodies, so us women and young girls find it rewarding when the man chooses us. I was at a concert where this happened to me. I was dancing and the guy came up and we started grinding and then he proceeded to grab my boobs. Back then my friends and I were all excited because he wanted me and my boobs, but that is so fucked up. It’s fucked up how we all unquestionably follow this so-called script and don’t even question its ways.

Lisa Wade believes that the hookup culture is deeply connected to rape culture due to this script. This is because the hookup culture calls for a carefree environment that turns into one of carelessness. Hookups are typically a one-and-done deal, a  hit-it-and-quit-it, if you will. Feelings aren’t supposed to accompany a hookup, but if they do, you are seen as desperate and clingy according to the script. Having feelings is apparently feminine and therefore bad, and that is why the hookup culture deters these emotions. It’s the idea that wanting someone is worse because in this culture you are just supposed to want something–the idea that women are sexual objects created to please men.

So, a couple things. Hookup culture sucks. Hookup culture rocks. Podcasts. Lisa Wade. Mind. Blown.

Contrary to national trends, astro includes women

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

JPEG Daniel

Students and faculty at Swarthmore find the college’s astronomy department to be a notable exception to the national trend of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

The college has a history of being more inclusive of women relative to other institutions around the country, despite still holding greater value of male pupils. Astronomer Nancy Grace Roman ’46, one of the first female executives at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), pursued astronomy at Swarthmore but still encountered a great deal of discouragement. She wrote in a The Meaning of Swarthmore that the school’s Dean Blanchard opposed women entering science and engineering, and a professor in lab told her, “I usually try to discourage women from going into science, but I think maybe you’ll make it.” Swarthmore gave Roman the rare opportunity to pursue astronomy as a woman, despite it being a hostile working environment.

Now many women take astronomy courses at Swarthmore. Some students find educator and student conduct in astronomy courses to be equally fair, respectful, and attentive to students of all genders.

Amanda Izes ’19 took Introductory Astronomy her first semester and is now a grader for the class. Her co-grader Jason Gonzales ’19 is a man and the SA Maral Gaeeni ’18 is a woman. She held positive views of the course.

“It was a very interesting course. My peers were especially willing to collaborate and the professor was always available for any question I had,” she said. “Everyone got attention when they needed it.”

Barbara Taylor ’18 is taking the class this semester with Visiting Assistant Professor Kate Daniel and has positive views of the professor.

“She seemed pretty engaged with a variety of people,” Taylor said.

Professor Daniel just arrived this year and has thus far enjoyed the atmosphere of her department and the campus.

“I think that the environment at Swarthmore is incredible, very supportive, and I think that the number of women that I’m seeing as undergraduates is on par, if not greater, than the number of males who are getting astronomy or astrophysics majors,” she said. “It isn’t representative of the larger community, which points to we’re doing something right.”

Daniel pointed to parts of the culture at Swarthmore that may contribute to its classrooms being more inclusive than many others.

“At Swarthmore, this egalitarian attitude is really emphasized and taken to heart, and I think that that kind of sets Swarthmore apart.”

Daniel says egalitarian values permeate discussions between professors as well. She often talks to other science professors about issues related to gender and academia. She notices that these types of conversations are more prevalent here than at other institutions she has worked at.

“It’s an issue that’s important in the community so we have conversations… amongst the astronomers here. I’ve spoken about the issue of harassment and gender, but as subset of all diversity issues, like racial issues or religion or sexual identity.”

She also discussed how gender representation among astronomy and physics professors is more balanced here than at other schools, and this may serve as encouragement to students who are women. On a national scale, she noted, the number of women in astronomy has remained at consistently low levels for the past several decades. The American Institute of Physics revealed in the report “Astronomy Enrollment and Degrees” that while interest in astronomy has increased over the past decade among both sexes, the proportion of all bachelor’s degrees received by women each year since 1983 typically hovers between 30 and 40 percent. In 2012, women comprised 38 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned.

“When the numbers are so imbalanced like that [on top of] having a culture where women are excluded, then I imagine that adds to the effect of them not staying in the field.”

Daniel has experienced varying levels of gender-based harassment at prior academic institutions, from blatantly sexist statements to more insidious remarks about her capabilities as a woman in science.

“I’ve had experiences that were very direct in terms of discrimination, and I’ve had experiences [involving] the subtle assumption of my gender being in the way of my academic progress.”

She recounted an experience as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University involving a non-permanent researcher who expressed sexist remarks in a public setting.

“[He] told me… that I would be better off raising kids and cooking for my husband, and that women were not as smart as men and it was scientifically proven.”

She said this was an obvious and highly public display of the researcher’s sexist convictions, and the school could and did easily address it.

“Hopkins handled it very well… There was a conversation with the chair… and eventually the Dean. This person ended up having to go to sensitivity training.”

She believed handling the incident at least set an example to the community that sexism would be acknowledged and reprimanded to some degree.

“I think that one of the larger problems is the more subtle kinds of harassment issues.”

She noted a general tolerance for instances of sexist sentiment in academia.

“There’s this culture of just not saying anything, just ignoring it. And that’s what ended up happening at Berkeley,” she said of the esteemed astronomy Professor Geoff Marcy, who after years of sexually harassing female students resigned from the University of California at Berkeley in October.

“Everybody knew this one guy was a perp… but nobody was reporting it because it was kind of just like ‘stay away from that guy.’”

Marcy is one the most respected astronomers in the world, and how his history of gender-based sexual misconduct will tarnish his reputation and future career remains to be seen. Daniel stressed the importance of both valuing the women he harassed and of recognizing how he diminished their prospects and chances of contributing to the field of astronomy.

She explained that debating the severity of a perpetrator’s consequences is a worthwhile conversation, but it should not distract from the hardships they had imposed on others.

“Does he have to stay accountable forever?” She questioned about Marcy. “[T]he flipside of the question… is you have all the women who he harassed who didn’t go into the field. So those are minds that are lost from this field, and how do you balance that?”

Daniel believed institutions should have outlined procedures to follow for handling harassment, as this would give members of the community a better understanding of what kind of conduct is inappropriate and will reap consequences.

“I think… having solid signposts for how to proceed forward would be hugely beneficial for the entire community.”

She explained that the ways in which an institution responds to acts of discrimination or harassment influences what behaviors the community deems to be acceptable or not.

“Maybe if we start holding them accountable now… because it [becomes] clear to the community that these are unacceptable behaviors and that there are repercussions, then maybe that will decrease the number of cases later on down the road.”

Daniel also described being catcalled by students while giving lectures at other schools.

“That’s all part of the culture… all these micro-harassment experiences build a larger picture and… how we handle those micro-harassment situations makes a huge difference along the way.”

Daniel does not find such behavior to be apparent in the college’s astronomy department, and she believes that fair treatment allows women to pursue these studies as much as their counterparts who are men.

Jacklyn Pezzato ’17 is one student who will pursue a career in astronomy after leaving Swarthmore.

“I had not really considered it as a career path before coming to Swat,” she recalled. “[But] I really liked the department.”

She described the working environment as comfortable and positive, and astronomy professors David Cohen and Eric Jensen as welcoming and helpful.

“They’re very socially conscious of diversity issues in the field,” she said. She also notices and appreciates how the astronomy textbooks often use “she/her” pronouns for characters in problems.

After graduating with an honors double major in astrophysics and engineering, Pezzato plans to go on to graduate school to study astronomy.

“Leaving Swarthmore are a significant number of women who have a strong background at the undergraduate level, who entering graduate school have that confidence in themselves,” said Daniels. “[A]nd that’s something that I think does play a large role in whether or not they stay in the field.”

She also mentioned being pleased to go through Title IX training before working here, as mandated by the college.

Daniel has hopes that astronomy departments around the nation will come around as well. She recently attended an American Astronomical Society meeting, during which the audience was presented with a report about sexual harassment in the field.

Professors call for increased faculty diversity

in Around Campus/News by

Of the 180 tenure and tenure-track faculty positions at the college, 45 percent are occupied by women and 36 percent are occupied by individuals who identify as members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Of the 75 female tenure and tenure-track faculty members at the college, 14 are professors in the natural sciences or engineering and 10 identify themselves as women of color. While these statistics are on par with national trends in higher education and represent considerable improvement from previous years, many faculty members at the college believe that significant advancements still need to made for there to be congruence between the college’s theoretical and practical commitments to faculty diversity.

In 2011, the college released the “Strategic Directions” report, which established the institution’s plans for handling the changing world of higher education over the coming years. One of the key features of “Strategic Directions” was a commitment to increasing faculty diversity. In former president Rebecca Chopp’s letter to the community, which begins the “Strategic Directions” report, she states, “Our ways of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty will need to keep pace with the changes both in academics and in our student body.”

Across higher education, changes at the institutional level have led to more progressive hiring practices for tenure and tenure-track positions. While such changes are far easier to undertake at large research universities, smaller, comparable institutions, such as Bowdoin College and Pomona College, have also made strides in promoting faculty diversity in recent years.

In 2008, Bowdoin introduced a “Proposal to Increase Faculty Diversity,” which led to the implementation of “Special Opportunity Hiring” practices that specifically target female and minority candidates for tenure-track faculty positions. Such practices provide for the appointment of new faculty members, prioritizing each candidate’s ability to fill certain diversity criteria without having to go through a national search where smaller colleges typically struggle to find a significant number of candidates from diverse backgrounds.

In 2004, Pomona College instituted diversity recruitment procedures requiring each department to report to the Dean, the Diversity Committee, and the Diversity Officer each time they plan to fill a tenure-track position in order to maximize the diversity of the candidate pool.

The “Strategic Directions” report outlines the need for the installment of similar procedures at Swarthmore.

In the report, the committee states, “With the support of the College’s equal opportunity office, we must increase the diversity of applicant pools and develop strategies to persuade highly sought-after candidates to choose Swarthmore, including funding postdoctoral fellowships for underrepresented groups.”

Despite the rhetoric of diversification emphasized in the “Strategic Directions” report, however, some professors feel that the college still is not doing enough to ensure race and gender diversity amongst tenured and tenure-track faculty, particularly in the natural sciences.

“I think more could be done,” said Professor of Spanish Maria Luisa Guardiola. “They are trying to get people to be more flexible about who they are going to hire, to think more openly about the candidate, but that’s not enough…I just find that if they’re going to diversify they have to really commit to this diversity.”

Guardiola worried that there is some disparity between the college’s stated dedication to faculty diversity and the way in which this dedication has manifested itself in practice.

“There is what they are telling people they are doing and then there is what they are actually doing,” she explained. “It seems like the college wants to impose certain things because they look good.”

Professor of History Marjorie Murphy expressed similar concerns, particularly in regards to the gender gap amongst tenured and tenure-track faculty.

“I think it’s time for the college to hold up the mirror and take a good look at what it’s doing for the faculty,” Murphy explained. “There is no point in recruiting all of these wonderful women here and bringing them halfway through their career here, or their tenure here, and then not tenuring them. This speaks to a lack of communication.”

Murphy noted that this problem is particularly pronounced in the natural sciences where, in past years, controversial tenure decisions have denied various female tenure-track faculty members from becoming fully tenured professors. Five of twenty female tenure candidates in the natural sciences and engineering have been denied tenure by their departments after the termination of their contracts at the college. Murphy believes this 15 percent differential has played a significant role in shaping the gender makeup of the natural sciences faculty at the college today.

Professor of Engineering Lynn Molter agreed.

“I think in the sciences at the college, you do face more challenges in getting tenure as a woman,” Molter said. “I’ve known [tenure-track] women who have not continued on to even be considered for tenure, and I’m trying to think of men … and I can’t really think of any, so I’m going to say it’s a smaller number of men – if any – who have been in that circumstance.”

Molter, who is the sole female professor in the engineering department, explained that during her more than 27 years of teaching at the college, she has only had two other female colleagues within the engineering department. However, neither of them work at the college today. Molter believes that the college could and should have done more to retain them. While one left after one year after having been offered a tenure-track position at another institution, the other was denied tenure in the sixth year of her contract despite what Molter considered to have been sufficient qualifications.

“I do think that being a woman was a very significant factor,” she said. “I am also convinced that there were other very serious issues that should not have been a factor in the decision.”

Molter believes that the irregularities in the tenure evaluation of this candidate represent a serious loss for the department.

“We could have made an opportunistic hire, however, there was legitimate disagreement about whether the department should have done an opportunistic hire or a full search,” Molter explained, referring to the process of filling tenured faculty positions without conducting a national search. “Now knowing, since that time, about the remarkable success and contributions of the individual who could have been hired, I am resolved to improve the circumstances for women in Engineering as well as in other sciences and mathematics at Swarthmore .”

According to data released by the Provost’s Office, in the last 20 years, in the natural sciences, 90 percent of male tenure candidates have received tenure, while only 75 percent of female tenure candidates have received tenure.

Sunka Simon, professor of German studies and associate provost for faculty development, explained that over the past 20 years, male tenure candidates have receive tenure at a rate 7 percent higher than female tenure candidates across all disciplines.

“It doesn’t look so great,” Simon said. “In the case of engineering, I know of a woman and a person of international ethnicity who were denied tenure, and I know in biology a while back there was a tenure denial of a double minority candidate.”

Murphy explained that the denial of tenure for qualified women in the sciences raises questions about the nature of the tenure process in general.

“All I can say is that it was surprising to me given how difficult it is to recruit good women in science and have them come to the campus and then not have them achieve tenure,” Murphy said. “The arguments against their tenure were perfectly legitimate within their fields, but it caused you to wonder. If they were acceptable when they were hired, what caused them to be so unacceptable seven years later?”

Nevertheless, given the efforts of the college to diversify in recent years, Simon is hesitant to point to gender and racial bias as playing a dominant role in the seven-year tenure process. Simon explained that the tenure process is incredibly comprehensive and involves a number of factors, including a candidate’s teaching, scholarship, and service.

Most tenure-track faculty are appointed on four year contracts as Assistant Professors, and in their third year, they apply for reappointment. For the reappointment process, a candidate must amass all of their scholarly research and publications, choose colleagues from other disciplines as well as former students to write letters on their behalf, and select three external reviewers in their field to assess their application for reappointment. At the same time, the department reviewing the reappointment application is also responsible for choosing a selection of former students and external reviewers to evaluate the applicant.

If the department decides to reappoint a candidate and make them an Associate Professor, they must submit that decision to the Committee for Promotion and Tenure – comprised of five senior faculty, the provost, and the president of the college – which, based on the department’s recommendation, will also make a decision on the candidate’s tenure future. That decision is then submitted to the Board of Managers who will either confirm or deny the reappointment. According to Provost and Professor of Chemistry Tom Stephenson, the third year review is usually successful, but provides a very useful opportunity for feedback and mentoring.

In the candidate’s sixth year, the College repeats this process on a more scrutinizing level, at which point, if their application for tenure is accepted, they become tenured professors.

Despite the multiple checks and balances of the tenure appointment process, however, some believe that there is still room for biases to affect the final tenure decision.

“There is a culture here where there is still a popularity contest,” said Guardiola. “Sometimes I’ve noticed that the standards are not the same for different people… When they don’t want someone to get through, they claim it’s a collegiality issue, and to me, that collegiality issue is very arbitrary.”

Guardiola expressed concern that collegiality, which is an assessment of how well a tenure candidate relates to their colleagues, has the potential to be used as a rationale for denying tenure to more outspoken or less socially popular candidates.

Murphy agreed, explaining that issues of collegiality can lead to inappropriate assumptions about the personal lives of tenure candidates that may add scrutiny to the applications of female and minority candidates.

“This generation of men, knowing that they can’t ask about marital status and children still speculate as to what the family life of female candidates is as opposed to men,” Murphy said. “Sometimes they’re just curious…They’ll say ‘I wish I knew, but I can’t ask her.’ … It used to be that you had to be suspicious of a comment like that thinking she won’t be able to devote as much work time as men would.”

Murphy explained that sometimes women who have families and children to raise may appear less collegial than their colleagues simply because they have responsibilities that take them out of the workplace.

“Sometimes when faculty members aren’t here very much – and this happens sometimes with women faculty members. At five o’clock they turn into pumpkins and go home and take care of their kids, regularly, and that could be interpreted as not collegial,” Murphy explained. “I go to my friend’s lectures as much as I can, but I’m a single woman, and I don’t have as heavy family claims on my time.”

In the past, these issues were far more pronounced.

Guardiola explained that when she came up for tenure, it was very difficult as a female tenure candidate to both raise a family and go through the tenure process because there was no maternity leave granted to female faculty members.

“In the late 1980s, I was a visiting professor, and my youngest child was born in 1989,” Guardiola said. “I had no maternity leave, so I came back to my class two weeks later.”

“I think this was a sexist campus when I came up,” agreed Murphy, who received tenure in 1987. “Some of the comments when I first got here were outrageous.”

Guardiola agreed, expressing that she experienced significant antagonism from male colleagues during her tenure process given her outspoken nature on departmental issues.

“There were a lot of male professors, so it was important that you kind of followed their ideas and that you did what they wanted,” said Guardiola, who received tenure in 2000. “I always felt a little bit uncomfortable because I didn’t agree with their vision of the direction that the Spanish program should go, but because of my circumstances I had to compromise a little.”

Professor of Physics Amy Graves felt that when she received tenure in 1994, some faculty outside of her department were surprised.

“They were pretty sure I wouldn’t get tenure just because of my vibe,” Graves explained. “On the day tenure decisions were announced, I had been invited to the tenure party of a wonderful colleague … and there was a sense that my case was much more tenuous than theirs, and when I walked in the door, people’s eyebrows shot up, and when I said ‘Hey, I got tenure,’ there was that shock … and it was just much less expected that I would [get tenure] for reasons I do not want to project a simplistic interpretation upon.”

Professors Graves, Guardiola, and Murphy all explained that today, the culture regarding gender and tenure has improved significantly.

Guardiola believes that the college is much more accommodating to the needs of its female tenure track faculty than it was in the past. For example, women on maternity leave are now given extra time to complete their tenure track, which Guardiola believes is indicative of some culture of change at the college.

“There definitely are a lot more women with tenure than when I started here for sure,” Guardiola said. “It definitely has changed. It’s a lot more balanced.”

Murphy echoed these sentiments.

“When I first came to Swarthmore, the Political Science Department didn’t have any women,” Murphy said. “I think some of it was clearly attitude and those attitudes began to break down… It’s a much more diverse campus than when I came.”

Simon agreed, explaining that in the humanities and social sciences at the college, women now receive tenure at a higher rate than men. According to data released by the Provost’s Office, in the last 20 years, female tenure applicants in the social sciences have received tenure at a rate of 88 percent, while their male colleagues have received tenure at a rate of 86 percent. In the humanities, over the same time period, 91 percent of female tenure candidates have received tenure, while 90 percent of male tenure candidates have received tenure.

Still, Professors Simon, Guardiola, and Murphy all explained that much work remains to be done in order to achieve the type of faculty diversity that the college has expressed a desire for. They felt that though norms might be changing in regards to gender, especially in the humanities and social sciences, there remains an immense lack of racial and ethnic diversity amongst tenure and tenure-track faculty at the college.

“There are more women professors than racial or ethnic minorities,” Simon said. “Race is really pitiful. It’s not good. It should be much better.”

Starting in the 1980s, the college began to engage in diversity hiring programs to bring racial and ethnic minorities to campus. These efforts were part of a broader initiative to better fulfill Quaker ideals of tolerance and community. Still, despite their good intentions, these reforms have left something to be desired.

“Its great that every few years, Swarthmore makes a concerted effort to recruit more women or recruit more faculty of color,” Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Professor of Sociology at the college, explained. “We succeed at that, and then comes the frustrating part, we take a vacation.”

Willie-LeBreton explained that while the college has made significant gains in diversity over the years, these gains have occurred in fits and starts. A consistent effort to recruit and maintain diverse tenure track faculty has been lacking.

Willie-LeBreton expressed concern that the college sometimes relies too heavily on its prestigious reputation to attract applicants for tenure positions instead of actively recruiting diverse candidates.

“I wish we would take a page out of the admissions handbook,” Willie-LeBreton said. “Admissions sends recruiters to the Southwest, to the Pacific Northwest, to the Midwest. We participate in QuestBridge to recruit low-income students that otherwise wouldn’t know about Swarthmore… we need to be doing a version of that. There are superlative PhDs coming out of the University of California system, the SUNY system, and the large universities in the South; people who would be a wonderful fit here and be a great contribution, but you need to scratch below the surface.”

Simon also felt that the college does not do enough to recruit candidates who do not have a certain academic pedigree.

“Swarthmore, because it considers itself an elite institution, has a bias against, for example, historically black institutions, or degrees that don’t come from the top five or the top ten,” Simon said. Simon worried that over the years, this bias has unfairly impacted the way in which the college has recruited for tenure-track positions.

“The challenge is surmounting the institutional inertia of bygone decades,” Willie-LeBreton agreed.

Still, according to Willie-LeBreton, the college has recently been making steps in the right direction.

“There has been a pretty serious change just in the last three or four years,” Willie-LeBreton explained, emphasizing the importance of the Diversity Task Force that operated during the 2013-2014 year. The task force conducted a review of faculty hiring for the year and distributed this report to all faculty members at the college in an effort to raise awareness regarding diversity hiring tactics. Additionally, the position description for Associate Provost was rewritten to mandate that the Associate Provost focus on increasing faculty diversity.

In her role as Associate Provost, Simon has helped to highlight the college’s role as a founding member of the Consortium of Faculty Diversity. In October of 2015, the college will host the CFD’s conference on campus. The consortium recruits faculty who identify themselves to be of diverse backgrounds to participate in two-year teaching fellowships at the college where they gain experience in the classroom, while working on their dissertations. According to Simon, this provides valuable teaching skills to professors and exposes students to a more diverse swath of instructors. Presently there are three CFD fellows teaching on campus.

Willie-LeBreton explained that such diversity initiatives are crucial to maintaining the competitiveness of the college on a national level.

“If we don’t keep diversity as one of our goals for faculty, staff, and student recruitment but also for the curriculum we offer, we will not remain one of the nation’s preeminent liberal arts colleges,” Willie-LeBreton said. “You could get away with that in 1957. You can’t get away with that anymore.”

Provost Stephenson agreed that faculty diversity is incredibly important to the future of the college, alluding to the college’s aim for continual improvement in this field.

“We’re always interested in diversifying the faculty,” Stephenson explained. “We have a high priority in making sure that we have as diverse a pool of applicants as possible… We definitely have aspirations to increase the diversity of our faculty. We’re not satisfied. I know I’m not satisfied.”

Willie-LeBreton explained that simply announcing these aspirations for diversity in conversations around campus has the potential to genuinely change the culture around faculty diversity at the college. In particular, she emphasized the power that students hold within these conversations – as evidenced by the student-driven development of more recent diversity initiatives around ethnic studies and mutual respect – to incite meaningful reform.

Murphy agreed.

“I’ll say this about Swarthmore,” Murphy said. “That lip service – at least we have that. In other words, at least they’re willing to entertain the idea that this is a possibility and thats always the first step. If somebody’s willing to do that or say that, then you can have a conversation.”

Students apologize for offensive Instagram post, college opens investigation

in Around Campus/Breaking News by

Last Friday, a student posted a controversial picture of himself with his five fellow blockmates on Instagram. The photo bore the text “Comin’ to gang bang yo bitch” and the caption “#GVT #GoodVibeTribe #weoutchea #BDN #hideyobish.” A few hours later, a friend sent a screenshot of the image to Hope Brinn ’15. Brinn reposted the photo to her Facebook page, and students and alumni began to comment — generally disapprovingly — on the appropriateness of the photo. In addition to commenting, community members took concrete action, making calls and writing emails to Interim President Constance Hungerford, Associate Director for Investigations Beth Pitts, Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen and the Public Safety office, amongst others.

Shortly afterward, Brinn received a message from one of the members of the group that said, “I would like you to take down that photo you posted before I call my lawyer. Thanks.” Brinn also made this message public in the comments section of her original post, which incited even more conversation amongst commenters.

The debate concerning the picture became lively both on the internet and on campus as more and more students heard about the photo and Brinn’s repost.

Students came upon news of the photo in Sharples and in other spaces on campus as the day progressed. The buzz was not confined to Sharples, though.

Yik Yak, a location-based social networking site which allows users to post and view anonymous “tweets,” served as a platform for further discussion of the photo and Brinn’s repost. The Yaks ranged from accusing Brinn of harassment and of blowing the photo’s harm out of proportion, to defending her actions.

Some felt that Brinn had unfairly spotlighted the young men, Brinn said.

“People accused me of ruining their lives. I literally just shared a photo they had on social media and had already created … and people seem very supportive of them,” said Brinn.

Some community members stood in solidarity with the students who posted the photo and expressed feelings of sympathy for them, asserting that they made a mistake and that the publicity that accompanied the dissemination of the photo was harmful in and of itself. Others believe that the students’ actions and those that supported them were due to a lack of first-hand knowledge about the history of sexual misconduct and sexual assault on campus.

Others insisted, mostly via Yik Yak, that the young men did not mean what they wrote.

Brinn felt that the harm caused by the photo was more important than the intention behind the post, saying, “It’s still a gross thing to say that’s intimidating and threatening. It doesn’t mean they’re any of those things, but it’s a thing that perpetuates that and makes people uncomfortable.”

In the days that followed, the student body received a slew of emails from Hungerford, the students involved (via the senior class dean) and the Student Government Organization.

The first of the emails was from the group of students, expressing deep regret for posting the picture and issuing a formal apology for undue harm that the photo may have caused.

“Our intention in this email is not to excuse our actions, but to make it clear how our mistake occurred and how sorry we are for the images and content released,” the students wrote. “It utilized language that is not acceptable under any circumstances. We recognize the magnitude of our mistake and as a group accept the responsibility of our actions.”

The students declined to be interviewed for this article.

They also emphasized that they hoped that their actions would not come to represent the groups that they are a part of or the activities in which some of them partake. In some Facebook comments, the tennis team and the Delta Upsilon fraternity were targeted, since some, though not all, of the students in the photo are members of those organizations.

“I would say we were as dismayed as anyone else on campus when we saw that caption. As far as what we did internally, since the issue didn’t directly involve us [but because] we are a vibrant social space on campus, we updated our Facebook page with a reminder that our space is safe,” said DU President Scoop Ruxin ’15.

The next day, Hungerford addressed the issue and the mounting tension on campus. Since online commentary had only increased since the day before, much of it directed toward Brinn, President Hungerford took the opportunity to remind students of the Student Code of Conduct, which contains an anti-retaliation clause prohibiting bullying and intimidation against those that make complaints.

“This incident serves as a reminder that our efforts both to eliminate sexual misconduct and discrimination on bases such as gender, sexuality, and race from our campus and to create an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome must continue to be a central priority,” Hungerford wrote.

Finally, in an email sent to the student body Tuesday, SGO Chair of Diversity Mosea Lee Esaias ’17 emphasized the gravity of words and the harmful ramifications that the language of rape and sexism have, even if they are presented as a joke.

“We would like to remind our peers to be mindful of our words and our ‘jokes’, both on this campus and off, not because they may be offensive, but because the language that we use and perpetuate contribute to a larger system of inequity and bias; and this larger system presents material consequences for many,” said SGO.

The college also began an investigation, including the President’s office, Public Safety, the deans and Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, amongst others. The cohort reviewed all student policies, including the sexual assault and harassment policies.

“There was a pretty intensive weekend of examination and I was very impressed by the team we had working — from the Dean’s Office to Public Safety. We take this kind of complaint very seriously and immediately went to work investigating it and working toward a resolution. I really want to commend the people who were involved,” said Hungerford.

The quick response sat well with some students on campus, but remained unsatisfying for others. The college’s direct and quick first step in addressing the issue and student concerns of all sorts seemed to provide some resolution for those that were offended or harmed by the picture.

“I do think that the college responded somewhat more proactively than I would’ve expected,” said Brinn.

It is still publicly unclear whether the young men will face disciplinary action from the college. Due to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the college’s policies regarding student privacy, this information may not become publicly available at any point.

The investigation also raised a series of questions regarding social media usage, privacy, responsibility and intention versus reception.

Both Williamsen and Hungerford addressed responsible social media use and the unintended consequences of sharing unthoughtful or harmful material, even in spaces that seem “private.” “People can be offended whether comments about them are made anonymously or not … We need to keep learning how to engage with one other, both in person, and online,” added Williamsen.

“While this incident was disappointing and upsetting, it also reaffirmed my belief in and deep commitment for the need to provide ongoing education about sexual violence prevention and more generally how to be respectful community members … We may not ever be able to prevent every offensive comment, but we can try to make our community members appreciate the consequences of their words and we can respond quickly and thoughtfully if things occur,” added Williamsen. “Clearly, our work is not done.”

As the administration renews its commitment to sexual assault education and prevention programs, others are curious about further steps that the college and the student body collectively might take toward promoting a safe environment.

Brinn hopes that the community takes this incident as an opportunity to think about what the optimal response to and consequences for this type of incident should be.

Ivan Coyote, storyteller to remember, wows LPAC

in Arts by
Photo by Angelina Abitino
Photo by Angelina Abitino

When someone says they are going to tell a story, a handful of mental images prepare your horizon of expectations — maybe a parent struggling to get an antsy child to sleep or a peer who never seems to apply a discriminatory eye to the relevance of particular details about their most recent crazy weekend. Typically you do not get ready for complex art, something you will be shaken by and struggling to digest the full meaning of for days after.

That’s okay, sort of. Storytelling has not reached mainstream audiences as successfully as other media of spoken art and performance. Hopefully it will, if Ivan Coyote’s recent performance on campus is any indication of the power and poignancy of the form.

The storytelling showcase took place on Saturday October 25 in LPAC Cinema. As part of the Sager Series and Pride Month, Coyote told stories about their lifelong struggle as someone outside of the gender binary, extrapolating their personal life to the general difficulty of the population.

Coyote, who started primarily as a folk musician but ended up “liking the banter more than the music,” said on the subject of their medium that “nobody knows exactly what I do.”

And it is not immediately or obviously clear what exactly they do. When the performance began it was difficult to tell exactly what was going on, exactly what was the point. There was paper on a podium, but the monologue seemed too natural to have been prepared or rehearsed. Eventually, very normal sentences became spaced out by blocks of more abstract language. A straightforward recounting of events would be followed by a flowing metaphor about a chair being dragged along the floor.

It became obvious that Coyote’s performance was of a unique and varied genre. Their stories lacked the rhythm of other popular spoken forms, and the sentences making up each tale followed a clear logical progression. In this way, storytelling seems more plain than its counterparts. What seems like line-by-line simplicity is actually storytelling’s special elegance. The primary challenge, which Coyote tackles masterfully, is making what is basic beautiful.

One of the apparent difficulties of storytelling is the fact that the audience is in the same room. Some lines of story were met with laughter, yet Coyote’s stern — here I considered the peculiarity of using the expression “straight-faced” — expression never faltered. Storytelling seems almost like an interactive experience in this sense, but what Coyote actually said came across like written prose (probably because it was). The story transitioned seamlessly from a one-sided conversation to a detached narrative, which kept the audience attentive as if they could prepare responses to Coyote’s sentences.

Subtly addressing generic questions like “when did you know?” and “what is it like?” they told several life stories, adding a special vibrancy to even the most basic details as their characterization of each of their family members had them walking the line between supportive and unaware.

The first story Coyote told followed them as they contacted family members and went through old photographs, putting together their own life through the eyes of processing it. It opened with what might have been banter or might have been prepared, then turned into what almost seemed like a stand-up routine. It was funny and friendly, with slightly biting jokes given enough time to be recognized as such.

Then the comedy started to be swallowed by somber details. The contrast between the humor and the solemn reality of the storyteller’s situation grew more pronounced as the space between the remarks shrank.

Take, for instance, a remark from Coyote’s aunt on choosing writing as a career path. A quip about the woman saying, “It’s only a job if you hate it,” was followed in the early stages of audience laughter by a gruesome description of the aunt’s hand, curled and ruined by arthritis as a product of the job she validated through hating it. This approach of fast-acting highs and lows gave the stories more impact and made them even more engaging.

The second story performance of the evening covered the life of a transgender friend/love interest of Coyote’s named Rosie. Equally touching and haunting, Rosie’s story had a completely different dynamic than the prior story. By opening the story with the detail of Rosie’s death, Coyote establishes an intimate anticipation of grief between the performer and the audience. Rosie’s tale was more raw, likely to reflect subject matter, which allowed Coyote to employ different storytelling techniques. The issues of identity and morality important to the story are not overpowering or bluntly stated but subtly powerful, creeping in through the narrative and allowing the audience to come to their presence and importance in the story gradually.

Coyote’s final story was a letter sent in response to a fan having trouble coming into their own identity. The letter covered Coyote’s navigation through complicated and varied family relationships, from a cousin who attempted to relate to Coyote via their shared interest in “eating pussy” to a grandmother whose only comment on the development of Coyote’s sexual identity was that she hated their haircut.

After three stories, it is still difficult to give a clear, academic explanation of the art of storytelling. It is clear, however, that Coyote’s brand will reach anyone who cares about the value of individual human experience.

 

Genderfuck planners to refocus party around gender expression

in Around Campus/News by
Students dressed up for last year's Genderfuck.
Students dressed up for last year’s Genderfuck. Photo by Holly Smith.

This year’s annual Genderfuck will be held Saturday, April 26 in Sharples Dining Hall. The main event will still be a party, but organizers say that the student body should move towards understanding Genderfuck primarily as an opportunity for students to play with their preconceived notions of gender.

“This party will offer us a good outlet for [gender expression],” said Kenneson Chen ’14, who is on the organizing committee for the event. “We’re taking some of the criticism that has come to Genderfuck’s door to … bring it back to [being] this space for experimentation.”

This is the second time Chen is helping to plan Genderfuck. He was recruited for the position by Student Activities Coordinator Mike Elias, but he took it on with some reservations. The last time he worked on Genderfuck, as a sophomore, there were ongoing conflicts with administrators over the party’s legitimacy. This time, planning has gone more smoothly.

“I wish I had more support from the administration in terms of manpower and hands-on collaboration, but overall it’s been a much more pleasant interaction,” said Chen. “It hasn’t been hostile.”

Genderfuck is being organized by a committee of ten people. The Drug and Alcohol Resource Team, Swat Team and Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention are also supporting the committee to create a safe event. Chen was clear that while some aspects of Genderfuck may provoke discomfort, student safety is non-negotiable.

As part of the effort to refocus Genderfuck on the expression of gender, the organizing committee chose the theme “Parrish is Burning.” This is a pun on the 1991 documentary “Paris is Burning,” which takes as its subject the underground ballroom community of New York City. The film’s main characters are drag performers negotiating their presentation of gender, race and class. Although plans are not yet concrete, event organizers want to have a showing of “Paris is Burning,” possibly including a follow-up talk, sometime in the week before Genderfuck.

The organizing committee is also looking into bringing drag performers to campus on the day of Genderfuck. They would like to hold a workshop where the performers can explain their techniques. Later, they might make an appearance at the party itself.

“A lot of the time at Swarthmore, we use language that you’d need a dictionary to understand,” said Chen, in reference to discussions of gender and sexuality. “Having a workshop with someone whose job it is to entertain with this art form, who has come to show us how to do it –- that’s as concrete as it gets.”

Incorporating elements of genuine drag culture into the event is a conscious choice for the organizing committee, which is concerned that the “cross-dressing” theme of the party is taken too lightly. Members of the queer community have taken offense in the past to some attitudes expressed through the event.

“A part of the idea of fucking with gender is trying really hard to explore those in-between spaces between our societal conception of ‘man’ and our societal conception of ‘woman,’” said Joyce Wu ’15, a member of the Swarthmore Queer Union board. “Part of it is really interrogating your personal sense of gender … and whether you’ve really thought about that and explored that.”

Wu doesn’t believe that students who make their clothing choice a joke are fully engaging with these goals. SQU will address the issue at a meeting held the week before Genderfuck, which they hope will draw in curious queer freshmen who can disseminate a message of thoughtfulness and sensitivity. The organizing committee also wants to encourage conversation between RAs and members of the freshman class, so that everyone will have an idea of what to expect.

Michelle Myers ’15, who has attended the last two Genderfucks, believes that some of the cross-dressing which goes on is, ironically, a venue to express heteronormativity. In the past, she has felt frustrated with the humor some students find in straight, cisgendered men wearing dresses.

“It should be, ‘I’m in solidarity with people who wear dresses.’ Not ‘I’m making fun of people who wear dresses,’” she said. “It’s like there’s an inherent funniness to wearing a dress that there isn’t in wearing a suit, because wearing a dress is disempowering.”

Wu defined the difference between playfulness and mockery as a question of intention.

“As long as your intentions are like, ‘I’m exploring gender, and playing with it, and seeing where it takes me,’ then I think that the whole dressing-up process can be really useful and productive,” she said. “But there are a lot of nuances.”

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