Deans, Students Look At Women's Concerns

The Harvard College Dean's Office is funding a soon to be published report that aims to take a comprehensive look at the concerns of female undergraduates at Harvard.

Scheduled for distribution in time for fall registration, the report is the first that will be written collaboratively by both students and administrators.

While the report is still being polished, those involved say certain themes have already emerged.

"The concerns depend on the group-some are more socially-oriented and others are more political-but concerns about having a women's center and having more female faculty are things I keep hearing," says Susannah L. Church, an Ann Radcliffe Trust intern who has taken charge of the report this semester.

The approximately 20-page report describes the histories, missions and challenges of the officially recognized women's groups on campus, and lists statistics about female undergraduates such as their concentrations and their rates of admission.

Because the report will be published through the Dean's Office, groups like the Bee that are not recognized by the College will not be covered in detail.

The as yet unnamed report is not the only compilation of female undergraduate experiences in the works. The upcoming Women's Guide to Harvard will also be distributed to first-years for the first time next fall.

But Shauna L. Shames '01, one of the students who originally had the idea for the report, sees a drastically different role for the two publications. While the Women's Guide to Harvard is intended primarily for undergraduates, Shames sees this new report as a resource for administrators, to make them aware of the concerns of female undergraduates.

"All the statues are male, all but one of the paintings are male...this is a very male-centered environment," Shames says. "All this sends a message and the message is that this is a place that's not so welcoming to women. We're trying to change that."

In contrast, Karen E. Avery '87, director of the Trust and associate dean of the College, believes the report will be used primarily by first-years as a directory of women's groups on campus.

Victoria L. Steinberg '01, who also helped to create the report, says the report will strengthen the network of women's groups on campus and provide an overarching, institutional history of student efforts.

"It's very important to get a sense each year of where the different groups are and of what is and is not being addressed. Verbalizing and publicizing these dialogues will benefit both students and administrators," Steinberg says.

Shames and Steinberg initially applied for a fall grant from the Ann Radcliffe Trust-established last year to fund projects that focus on women at Harvard-to create the report as a founding project for the Women's Initiative Network (WIN).

WIN is a network of undergraduate women's groups, founded last spring by Shames and Steinberg, that coalesced around the common desire for a women's center at Harvard.

But Avery saw a proposal with potential and offered official administrative support for the project.

"This was something that very much aligned with the Trust's mission," Avery says. "This was not something students should have to do on their own, and we wanted to support them and offer our services."

While several leaders of women's organizations on campus express support, others are more cautious.

"I wonder how different it's going to be from a lot of things that already exist at Harvard," says Jennifer B. Monti '02, chair of the Women's Leadership Project.

"If it's just a compilation of women's groups, I don't know if it'll be worth it. But if it makes analyses and recommendations, if it's something other than the p.c. response that we're used to, it might be worth it," Monti says.

But Steinberg says the presentation of a unified front by women's groups and the potential of the report to hold administrators accountable in terms of their responses to women's groups requests leaves room for optimism.

"A women's center has been requested of Harvard for decades now," she says. "But it goes ungranted because one, the public doesn't know about it, and two, these conversations take place behind closed doors with one student or one group and one administrator. This report can show what goes on."

-Staff Writer Juliet J. Chung can be reached at jchung@fas.harvard.edu.