Science Museum Welcomes Women

Cambridge vice mayor blasts Summers’ remarks, hosts free tour for females

The Boston Museum of Science opened its doors free to all women Sunday in response to President Summers’ comments last month about women in science.

In conjunction with the event, Cambridge Vice Mayor Majorie C. Decker also hosted a discussion and a tour with two dozen women and girls, including one Harvard student.

The occasion came about two weeks after Summers’ comments at an economics conference about innate differences between men and women’s abilities in science touched off a firestorm of controversy.

“We hope to use this momentum to showcase and affirm that women are very much into science,” Decker said. “It has taken private conversations about careers, obstacles, and prejudices of women in the sciences and made them more public.”

The tour group took an interactive walk through the museum paired with commentary highlighting achievements of female scientists.

Decker also facilitated a “roundtable” discussion in the cafeteria, where elementary and middle school students talked about their interests in chemical testing and earth sciences.

Though the event was originally geared towards university and high school women, grade-school girls ultimately outnumbered the adults and were vocal in discussions expressing their aspirations in the realm of science.

“Hopefully the path will be a little clearer for them than it was for us,” said Lorie E. Erlich, a Kennedy School of Government student and mother of two.

“With all the attention that Summers brought to the issue, hopefully more women will find encouragement in places in there was none before,” she said.

Erlich said that she jumped at the opportunity to bring her kids to the event and nourish their interest in science, noting that provocation can often lead to positive change.

“Many kids are not aware of the negative stereotypes and are affirmed in their interests,” Decker said. “Events like this are great for encouraging positive messages.”

Museum of Science Program Manager Cheryl L. Wojciechowski said that the event provided young girls with examples of normal, active, everyday women as role models for successful careers in science.

“We want to let girls know, the museum supports you,” Wojciechowski said. “The museum is here for you to come, learn, and share ideas.”

Supriya K. Jain ’08, who attended the event and said she intends to concentrate in biochemical sciences, said she noticed that the girls in attendance seemed to be positively influenced by female science teachers.

Jain added that she thought it disturbing that Summers’ remarks came at a time when Harvard has tenured a decreasing percentage of female faculty over the last three years.

“Though he thinks and speaks like an economist, every now and then he needs to get back down to the human level,” Jain said.

Wojciechowski, who is also an adjunct professor of biochemistry at Harvard Extension School, said that Summers’ comments have not affected her personally at all.

“I have my job and I do my job the best I can,” Wojciechowski said. “I’d hope that [Larry’s statement] will excite women to prove it wrong.”

—Staff writer Ying Wang can be reached at yingwang@fas.harvard.edu.