This article is featured in the 2023 Homecoming special issue.
On Sept. 22, Sian Leah Beilock was inaugurated as Dartmouth’s 19th President and the first woman to assume this position. Dartmouth is now the seventh Ivy League institution to have a female president; Columbia University became the eighth school after the inauguration of Minouche Shafik on Oct. 4, according to the Columbia Spectator.
Currently, six out of the eight current presidents in the Ivy League are women. Three of them — Beilock, Shafik and Harvard president Claudine Gay — were inaugurated this year. Among this perceived shift to female leadership in the Ivy League, some female Dartmouth students and alumni hope that Beilock’s leadership will change the College’s history of sexism. Larger discussions of female representation are also taking place among the College’s administration.
In regard to the College’s prolonged decision to appoint a female president, Morgan Hamilton — assistant director for Undergraduate Advising and Research and director of the Women in Science Project — suggested that Dartmouth’s need to appease the public might explain the absence of female presidents at the institution over the past 50 years.
“I think that it’s an old institution [that] can get kind of stuck in its ways,” Hamilton said. “I think that sometimes we’ve led with thinking about how … decisions would be received by donors and by students.”
Meanwhile, Thayer School of Engineering Dean Alexis Abramson attributed the absence to the “pipeline problem” — the shortage of female candidates for College President due to structural barriers.
“Even 10 years ago, the pool of available women to take on the role of President was pretty small,” Abramson said. “So I think sort of the pipeline problem is probably mostly to blame. It’s taken a long time for women to get into leadership positions.”
However, student body vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24 pointed to the number of female presidents at peer institutions.
“I have no idea why it took Dartmouth that long,” Ortiz said. “There have been a lot of other women university presidents.”
Executive Vice President for Strategy and Special Counsel Jomysha Delgado Stephen said that many have underscored the significance to Beilock’s inauguration. She described how Dartmouth has not attempted to “hide … that she’s the first female president.” Instead, the institution has embraced and celebrated this fact.
“All I can say is they got it right,” Delgado Stephen said, in reference to Dartmouth’s welcoming of Beilock.
In 1972, Dartmouth became coeducational; the last school in the Ivy League to become coeducational was Columbia in 1983. According to Hamilton, as more and more women enter Dartmouth’s administration, they continue to face a number of barriers.
“It was clear to me when I first came to Dartmouth in the early 2010s that there had been a cohort of women who had come up together in the administration in the 1990s … that had to forge their own society to make a place for themselves at the College,” Hamilton said. “You can definitely see that they bonded over shared trials.”
According to Hamilton, these trailblazing women built a space for themselves within the Dartmouth administration while contributing to an environment that celebrated and uplifted women, supporting the notion that women belong in leadership roles. Hamilton described the idea of the confidence gap: Male-identifying people report feeling greater confidence than female-identifying participants when applying for jobs.
“That doesn’t come from nowhere. That comes from psychologically thinking women don’t belong in [competitive] roles,” Hamilton said. “So when you see women in administrative roles, that is building up your impression of whether women belong in those roles.”
Despite the challenges, Dartmouth has entered an era in which women comprise a large percentage of the administrative staff, according to student body president Jessica Chiriboga ’24.
“During my time at Dartmouth, I’ve worked with many female administrators,” Chiriboga said, adding that they have “[ranged] from our now current president, President Beilock, to Caitlin Barthelmes, who’s the director of our Student Wellness Center, to Heather Earle, the director of the Counseling Center.”
Delgado Stephan remarked on the positive impact of many administrative figures being women.
“It’s not bad to say that the President, the Executive Vice President, the General Counsel, the [Senior Vice President] for [Institutional Diversity & Equity], the Dean of the Faculty, the dean of Thayer and the VP for Government Relations are all women,” Delgado Stephen said. “That’s powerful,” she said.
Despite these positive indicators, female administrators expressed instances of gender-based bias. Abramson detailed how she was subject to targeted questioning that included repeated questions over whether she felt that she had enough experience to succeed after assuming the position of dean in 2019.
“When I first started, [I got asked,] ‘Do you have any children?’” Abramson said. “And you think, are those separate things … or do you want to test whether or not I can actually do the job? I have to ask, if I were a man, would I get that question?”
According to Abramson, Dartmouth is “steadily” working to combat this disparity in treatment, with a team evaluating the hiring processes every year by examining the messaging and hiring trainings and ensuring that the institution is encouraging a large, diverse pool to apply to faculty positions.
Chiriboga said she thinks Dartmouth still has steps to take to foster a more inclusive and diverse environment for current and future generations of female students and faculty.
“I would like to see programming in different departments about how to navigate sexism in the workplace,” she said. “I think many of us have had experiences where we’ve had to navigate an offhand comment or a feeling of our ideas not being fully respected simply because of our gender identity.”
During her inauguration speech, Beilock shed light on the childcare problem in the Upper Valley, which Hamilton described as another barrier to women throughout the administration and faculty.
“If you have to make the decision between staying home for those few years until your kid is in school, or continuing in the workforce, that can put you at quite a disadvantage,” Hamilton said. “… I’ve known a lot of disadvantaged women who’ve made that choice. To see [Beilock] having this initiative to try to expand childcare in the Upper Valley and keep it at a reasonable price point is huge.”
Abramson said that Beilock’s background as Barnard College’s former President gives her a foundation of success in higher education that she can translate to the Upper Valley.
“She comes from the University of Chicago, which takes a more research-focused approach to things, and Barnard, which has that small college approach,” said Abramson. “What she’s aiming to do is leverage those two pieces, and I think it’s going to benefit both our students who come here for an amazing education … and our faculty that are here supporting our mission.”
According to Hamilton, as the College looks to the future, students and faculty alike can feel hopeful that changes are occurring to ensure future classes of students don’t face the hardships of generations past.
“There’s still work with regard to what it means to identify as a woman and feel equally recognized,” Delgado Stephen said. “Even when there’s an intention to bring us backward, we keep working towards moving forward. And we will continue to move the needle. My goal [is] to leave things better than when I got here.”