Finish the Job of '63
HARVARD'S 25th reunion book is usually a handsome hardcover volume, packed with typeset tales of alumni success and glossy then-now pictures. By comparison, Radcliffe produces a typed, xeroxed pamphlet bound in plastic and filled with rough pages, devoid of the crimson and prestige so integral to Harvard's past.
For the first time, this year's reunion classes have merged in both volume and spirit. The landmark Radcliffe class of 1963 was the first to receive diplomas issued by Harvard. And now these grads are the first to join with their male counterparts for Harvard's traditionally more elaborate reunion festivities.
Representing the first, albeit timid, step toward the merger of Harvard and Radcliffe, the Class of '63 was followed by the establishment of coed living in 1971 and merged admissions in 1977. But while the College has moved toward integration of the sexes, it has retained subtle divisions. And today the female students of Harvard are still plagued by that anachronistic separation--that feeling of being admitted on an equal basis with their male counterparts, but not entirely.
WOMEN are reminded of their separate but equal status before they even arrive in Cambridge. Instead of getting accepted to Harvard, letters sent to female applicants simply congratulate them on admission to Radcliffe. Who applied to Radcliffe? Who wanted to frame a letter of admittance to Radcliffe? Certainly not the women who have worked hard--just as hard as their male classmates--to get into Harvard. Women don't want a slighted invitation.
Once students of the 1980's arrive on campus the separation is barely evident. Gone are the days when women were barred from Widener and forced to sit in the hall in order to audit all-male courses. Today men and women live together, attend classes together, and participate together in the same extracurriculars.
But the slight discrepancies that remain between male and female experiences are jarring. The frequent occurence of male-dominated discussion sections, with two female students in a classroom of a dozen men, hardly builds self-esteem. With women holding only 7 percent of the tenured faculty positions and only one-fourth of the junior slots, finding role models isn't easy.
The most important, yet subtle, difference affecting Harvard women is the continued existence of Radcliffe. Its administrators have long been figure-heads Harvard puts on the podium, but leaves behind as the real governance decisions are made. As Radcliffe President Matina S. Horner said earlier this year, what Harvard does "has nothing to do with what Radcliffe's doing." That's the problem.
Radcliffe independently fundraises, researches and harbors nostalgia about yesterday. Harvard already does all of these things--the merger of the two institutions should have resulted in the merger of these functions.
The 1977 merger agreement should have put female undergraduates on an equal footing with their male counter parts. Instead, the very existence of Radcliffe continues to impede that equality. For students of the 1980s, Radcliffe seems a mere vestige of the days of forced eclusion and blatant gender discrimination. Discrimination is illegal, Harvard accepts women, and female students don't need constant reminders that they weren't always treated as fairly as now.
Women of today do need to share common experiences of working in what has long been a male-dominated career world. But women no longer need to be forced into feelings of inferiority by the institutions that are meant to equalize their chances once they are spit out into that world. There should be no more xeroxed reunion books, no more acceptances to Radcliffe, no more Radcliffe required on women's diplomas.
THERE should be a powerful advocate for issues of concern to women on campus, such as sexual harrassment and female tenure. But in these crucial areas Radcliffe has not served its constituency. Radcliffe has not fought aggressively for women's concerns on campus. This year the Radcliffe Board of Trustees refused to endorse efforts to make the final clubs co-ed. In the past, Radcliffe did not fight for the creation of a Women's Studies Department.
For students today, Radcliffe is simply one of many different extracurricular activities for undergraduates. Only six students regularly attend meetings of the student organization that is supposed to represent all 2500 women undergraduates, the Radcliffe Union of Students Probably the biggest explanation for why Radcliffe activities draw so few participants is that women get here because of their involvement in a myriad of other activities. Once here, women don't want to be boxed into a sector all of their own.
But this is not to deny that all women are involved in women's issues, whether they acknowledge it or not. Certainly women in any organization face a different potential for discrimination than their male counterparts. Women in all activities are women first, and members second. For that reason there should be discussions of women's issues, top female speakers, more women role models and resources to help Harvard women cope as they juggle careers and families.
Yet women's issues should not be treated as part of a separate sphere, located in the Quad, which affects only those who choose to belong to Radcliffe groups. Harvard has a dual responsibility: one, to prove its committment to the women it has admitted by sponsoring services for them; and two, to pull in women alongside men--to teach, to speak and to show that they can be equally successful. If Radcliffe is responsible for the first duty, it is unlikely Harvard will take the second very seriously.
AS Horner leaves next year, her institution faces a key opportunity. Why search for a replacement, when Horner's biggest accomplishment was striking the merger agreement that rendered Radcliffe obsolete?
Instead of spending valuable time and resources perpetuating a second bureaucracy, why not seek to integrate top female administrators into the upper echelons of Harvard's hierarchy, where females have long been unfairly represented?
Instead of pretending that Radcliffe is representative of women students here, administrators should be willing to spin off their institution into the only niche it is qualified for: as a preeminent women's research center.
This isn't to deny Radcliffe's role in rallying the support of alumnae from yesteryear. But for female students since 1976, the existence of Radcliffe is more of a put-down than a rallying point. Let women be Harvard students, through and through, and let Harvard finally acknowledge women as its own.