ALTHOUGH WOMEN HAVE comprised at least one-fifth of the undergraduate community at Harvard since 1972, they have received less than one-seventeenth of the prize funds opened to them at that time by legal action of the university. This evidence, gathered in a study conducted by the OGCP and the Office of Women's Education, shows that an official or legal lowering of barriers to women at the University does not automatically solve all problems of access.
As yet, there are no clear explanations for the underrepresentation of women in the winners' circles for these 29 awards, recognizing individual essays, poems, musical compositions or academic achievement. One Radcliffe administrator has called the findings "mysterious." An investigation is now underway to determine whether outright discrimination among judges, poor publicity of the prizes, or disinterest among women students lies at the root of the discrepancy. The corrective effort seems to have universal support from Radcliffe and Harvard officials; Dean Whitlock has written a letter of inquiry to those prize committees that have not recognized women in their eligible proportions.
When the study is complete, figures showing the ratio of women applicants to the overall pool will be available. But these figures alone may be meaningless, since few students--men or women--participate in the competition for those prizes that require submitted work, as opposed to cumulative academic achievement. An official in the prize office said that most of the essay contests that her office oversaw this year drew under 10 competitors. The problem may be one of access for the whole community: A select few students compete for costly rewards. Or it may be benign: Few students--men or women--are interested in competing for essay prizes. Or it may pertain specifically to the status of women in the University.
The OGCP and OWE officials who conducted the study, and Alberta Arthurs, Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid and Women's Education, who requested the inquiry, have provided the community with valuable information. It is now up to department chairmen and prize committees to act on it--to correct what may be a benign discrepancy before it becomes a chronic, habitual problem.