To address gender inequality in classrooms, Sonya Levine ’17, Sarah Mininsohn ’17, and Sophie Miller ’17 held a discussion on Friday, Nov. 13 with the intention of creating a safe, comfortable, and informal place to discuss this issue. The event was created as an opportunity for students to talk informally about both their positive and negative experiences in the classroom. The organizers hoped that a collection of stories to acknowledge common trends in people’s academic experiences would form from the discussion, and that ultimately, they would be able to implement a plan of action to create equality in academic environments.
All three of the organizers are dance majors who are pursuing second majors in different subjects. The decision to plan this meeting derived from their discussions about personal experiences with sexism in their respective departments.
“We thought that if the three of us in three different departments experienced this, then there must be plenty of other people on this campus in classrooms where all genders [might feel uncomfortable],” Miller said. “The three of us are all dance majors and have been friends for some time, so organizing [this meeting] became a way for us to reach out to other students.”
The meeting began with introductions and students taking some time to write their own reflections. Participating was not mandatory in the meeting, but many chose to discuss their experiences with gender inequality in classrooms. One of the main purposes of this meeting was to create and find a community that shares experiences of gender inequality and then work together to combat this issue.
“I think a lot of people are open to this discussion but haven’t sought to create [a space] because they believe that they are the only ones who experience it,” Levine said. “It seems like Wesleyan is [a] place that has surpassed the challenge of creating equality in the classroom, but of course it is not.”
According to the students who participated, the most prevalent problems in the classroom are associated with misogyny and arrogance. Additionally, many classes rely heavily on reading works largely by white men.
After some students shared their experiences and thoughts, they contributed possible solutions for this issue. One suggestion was for the students to hold informal and community-based gatherings, such as potlucks, with female professors in male-dominated fields. Students predicted that once they established a sense of community, they could take further action toward gender equality.
“I felt that this meeting was productive, and I’m excited to move forward,” Mininsohn said. “The more stories I hear about gender discrimination, the more I feel both awakened and disturbed. We seemed to draw students from a pretty wide range of academic departments and learned a lot from the ideas presented.”
Like Levine, Miller believes the University should take more steps toward tackling this problem.
“I think the University could definitely do more in creating a space where they hear from students about their own experiences,” Miller said. “As of now, there is no gender/race bias reporting system which would be a great place to start. I think that the University should have clear and safe pathways for students to report classroom discrimination. This seems incredibly basic because students shouldn’t be working so hard and paying so much if they are not being treated with respect within their classrooms.”
Along with creating a reporting system, students at the meeting also suggested that professors be required to undergo training regarding gender discrimination in the classroom.
“I think that many professors are unaware of the uncomfortable atmospheres they create, and the University should take responsibility for this unawareness,” Mininsohn said. “This issue of gender discrimination intersects deeply with racial discrimination and other forms of discrimination, all of which silence students in an institution that we largely attend with the intention of becoming more engaged, empowered, and critical thinkers.”