The Gendering of Dartmouth Resources

by Lauren Vespoli | 11/18/10 11:00pm

My mother graduated from Dartmouth in 1977 the second complete class of women to graduate from the College. There were no sororities, no WISP, no Link Up in short, no resources for the few women at the College. While at Dartmouth, she majored in chemistry and rowed for the women's crew team.

"I just did what I wanted, and didn't let the negative minority of men get to me," she has told me.

Obviously not all of the first women at Dartmouth share her experience and attitude, but it is striking when I imagine my mother's experience and look at the College today, when women have been present for 38 years.

If you've ever looked into gender resources at Dartmouth, you'll notice that there are many groups for women, and hardly any for men outside of the Greek system. Maybe this is an indication that the College, trying to depart from its "good ol' boys club" past, has provided many of these resources to compensate for its history (For example, while my mother was at Dartmouth, a few drunk frat bros threw a brick through the window of a girls' dorm.) Maybe these resources exist and keep cropping up because, despite the equal numerical breakdown of males and females at Dartmouth, there is still something lacking for women at the College, which many of these groups provide in academic and social sectors.

On the academic side of things, there are several programs and groups including the Women in Science Project and the Society of Women's Engineers. The Women in Science Project, or WISP, which through peer mentoring and research internship programs "encourages women with an interest in science/math/engineering to pursue those interests and really thrive, not just survive," according to Kathy Weaver, WISP's Assistant Director.

Created in 1990 by the associate deans of science and the associate dean of engineering in response to the "national problem" of female under-representation in many science and engineering occupations, WISP's main goals are to give women research opportunities early in their college careers and to foster a community of female scientists at the College.

"For women in fields like computer science, they can find themselves in classrooms where they are completely outnumbered," Weaver said. "It can put a lot of pressure on people when you are underrepresented."

Through WISP, Weaver said she hopes that women can be "linked with each other across disciplines and connect with others with similar interests, goals and help each other both times."

Although WISP was created to address this national trend, Weaver added that it also fills a specific purpose at the College.

"The social aspect of Dartmouth is uncomfortable for a lot of women in science and engineering, because women in science and engineering majors spend more time in labs because of lab requirements," Weaver said. "Our women somehow don't feel connected to the social environment at Dartmouth."

WISP has been so successful that other colleges around the country have used it as a model.

"There are some 200 colleges and universities who have copied it since," College President Jim Yong Kim said, "I think in general mentoring is really key."

Women in Business is another gender-specific program that seeks to create a community of women based on a shared interest.

"We help educate women about business since we are at a liberal arts school, and use the women's network to try and further our business careers, especially in a lot of male dominated work spaces," the group's vice president, Nora Niebruegge'11, said.

Furthermore, Women in Business tries to help provide the types of networking resources that men may have an advantage in because of Dartmouth's long-standing fraternity scene.

"Fraternities are really valuable networking resources for men," Niebruegge said, "whereas the alumni collection to a lot of sororities is not as strong."

"This network of women that are really interested and care about business is a valuable resource because a lot of getting a job later down the road is networking," she added.

Then there are also the social resources, such as the Center for Women and Gender and Link Up, which the CWG supports. Link Up is a women's mentoring program that seeks to create stronger ties between freshmen and upperclassmen women. The program is in the process of moving away from these mentor pairings and towards community dinners to begin conversations about being a woman on campus, most notably through their termly "Proud to be a Woman" dinner. It also opens the dialogue to all factions of women on campus including undergraduates, professors, and staff.

"I would love freshmen women to come in and feel like upperclass women are friendly," said Katie Lindsay '11, one of the heads of Link Up, who added that she feels that there is a lack of female solidarity at Dartmouth.

Lindsay said she believes the "Dartmouth X" (the theory that a woman's level of attractiveness declines from freshman year as a man's increases) and accompanying fear of freshmen women "stealing" upper-class men are to blame for the disunity at Dartmouth.

"It's not something that people think consciously but it is something that happens," Lindsay said. "I would hope that women were more supportive of each other and realized that we have a lot of differences but that we are facing a similar school."

The CWG, with an office located in the Choates, seeks "to create a space on this campus for conversation around gender identity and expression and to support students' exploration of that identity," according to Samantha Ivery, the center's acting director.

"We also do work to empower women, based particularly on the fact that this institution was all-male for a very long time," Ivery added.

The CWG, which is a part of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, supports any and all programs, leadership development or general resources directed to benefit women, such as Link Up, in addition to partnering with the Health Promotions Office to spread awareness about sexual health issues. Ivery said she believes that Dartmouth needs a resource like the CWG more than other schools because of its history.

"The Dartmouth system and its structures were designed for upper-class white men," she said.

As Dartmouth broadened to include women and minority groups, Ivery said she does not think the basic structure of the institution has changed enough to accommodate these groups.

"Expanding doesn't shake up the foundation, or change the way the College started and the traditions that it started," she said. "Until the foundation gets shaken up, until we re-do some pieces with everyone at the table that's a part of the community, we will need resource centers and places of focus. There are plenty of places on campus for men to go and be with just men. There aren't as many places for women to go and be with just women."

Several men on campus, however, are also looking to join the gender conversation. Two senior men, Gabe Werner '11 and Tommy Brothers '11, have started an informal discussion for Dartmouth men interested in talking about gender issues and their own masculinity.

"Our ultimate goal is to help men at Dartmouth be better men by talking about it," Werner said. "I got interested in this because of my own experiences at Dartmouth. I feel like some of the mistakes I've made have been related to taking a certain set of socially accepted values, and assuming them as my values."

Werner said he hopes that the opportunity for discussion will allow Dartmouth men to "be in touch with what they think and disentangle true beliefs from what they perceive as the status quo." He said he feels that the lack of men's specific resources outside of fraternities is "unfortunate."

"First of all, not every guy is Greek," Werner said. "But within the system, there's an issue because it's hard for guys to stand up and say their own beliefs if they feel like their ideas clash with overarching belief system."

Ultimately, Werner said he would like to reach a consensus among men on campus, in order to be able to better engage in a discussion with women.

"In order to get guys to a point where they're confident discussing their beliefs, we have to do that amongst ourselves first," he said. "And then we can open the discussion to women."

So sure, Dartmouth may have changed a lot since the late '70s some men of Dartmouth are trying to start a discussion about gender instead of throwing bricks but the presence and types of available gender resources indicate that there are still many issues to be addressed.

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