The women who are responsible for running Radcliffe's Office of Women's Education hope that the need for their work will diminish over time. But they feel that phasing out the year-old office must wait upon the presence of greater numbers of women in the Harvard community and an increased commitment to their education. For the moment, in their opinion, the value of such an office is obvious.
Located on the first floor of Fay House in the Radcliffe Yard, the OWE has not enjoyed great visibility this past year, in large part because it operated without a director until February. Conceived by President Horner last year, the office was directed by Alberta B. Arthurs, overall dean of admissions, financial aid and women's education, until the appointment after a year-long search of Judith B. Walzer, lecturer on Yiddish Literature, as director.
Nonetheless, the OWE's summary of its first year reveals a number of studies completed or in progress, and several projects that will form the basis of the office's work in the future. Because this work ranges from studies on the academic fields in which women concentrate to an afternoon session on "crimes against women," from investigating the amount of prize money available to women to hosting a special national conference of women historians next fall, the immediate question is, what does "women's education" mean to Radcliffe administrators?
In Arthurs's view, the OWE does have a coherent mission, which may be best defined in terms of what it is not: It does not function as a dean of students office, nor is it especially concerned with collecting every conceivable fact about Radcliffe women.
"It is there to address the concerns of women in the University community, particularly undergraduates," Arthurs says, "and to take on areas of action by identifying a concern and addressing it. Usually this involves very specific matters--the problems of older women undergraduates, the role of women athletes, concentration patterns, and so forth."
Walzer cites this past year's study of concentration patterns as a model of the kinds of information-gathering the OWE will undertake in order to better help women here. "The office doesn't have the setup, nor ought it, to do extensive social science research," she says. "But we should be able to get the facts so that we can argue that certain myths about women aren't true. Once we find out what the story is, then we can do something about it."
Through an investigation of the majors of Radcliffe women over the past decade, for example, the OWE learned that the number of men concentrating in the sciences has dropped since the Sputnik era, that the number of women in some sciences has gone up, and that recently the number of male English concentrators has topped the number of women in English. "We learned that some of the myths are true, but not to the same degree that people believe them to be true," Walzer said.
But apart from these general observations, the OWE uses its information to focus on specific groups of women--in this case, women who major in academic areas considered non-traditional for women. This year the office sponsored meetings for prospective women concentrators in Economics, Government and the physical sciences with women Faculty, graduate students and research associates in those departments. "If I can believe all that I've heard since those meetings, the freshmen found them very helpful," Walzer says. "And the women graduate students, junior Faculty and senior Faculty were both willing and enthusiastically positive."
In addition to continuing those meetings next year, the OWE has sent a special mailing to incoming freshman women who have declared an interest in the sciences to acquaint them with the Science Center. The office will focus on this group of women once it arrives, in order to follow individual courses of action with respect to continuing in the sciences.
In other areas, information-gathering leads to lobbying. The OWE's study, in cooperation with the Office of Career Services and Off-Campus Learning, of prize money available to men and women, is a prime example. Walzer says that she doesn't know what will result from the OWE's discovery and publicity of discrepancies in the money both available to, and won by, women. Office staff-people have already visited with the appropriate departments, and next year will, Walzer says, "gently remind" them that women too are eligible for at least some of the prize money at Harvard. As a starter, all students will receive information about prizes in their registration folders. "The feeling before always was that if a person was interested in a prize, he or she could take the initiative to get the booklet," Walzer says. "That worked pretty well, but not well enough, and it may be one of the reasons why women have come out on the short end."
Other studies that deal with specific groups of women at Harvard include an ongoing investigation into the quirks of merged athletics, a look at Radcliffe's minority students based on interviews with both students and administrators, and a study of women undergraduates who are older than the majority of the College population. A large part of this information if forwarded to the Strauch Committee on the Harvard-Radcliffe relationship.
More generally, Walzer says she is interested in experimental projects bering on coeducation in sections and tutorials. "It's worth doing whatever you can to find out what it's like when things are different--to compare the experience of a woman alone in a group of men with that of a woman in a more equal group," she says. "It's not bad in itself to go to an unequal-ratio school, but we should know more about what happens when the numbers are applied directly to the educational system."
The office's session last month on crimes against women will be followed up next year with House-by-House meetings. Through its news letter, "'Cliffe Notes," the OWE has sought contact with women undergraduates; this summer, one of its priorities will be to complete "A Woman's Guide to Harvard" before registration next fall.
Walzer says that none of the projects her office has undertaken this year has been artificially constructed, but instead, that they have met some of the existing concerns of women. Despite its broad title, the office is geared to approach these concerns at a specific level.
Walzer is unwilling to talk about the so-called "special needs of women" except in the context of Harvard. Moreover, while her office functions as initiator and advocate on behalf of women, Walzer feels that many of the problems that women undergraduates bring to her should be handled through existing agencies. "Maybe the student doesn't know that there is an office that's supposed to handle her problem, or maybe the office needs some enlightened encouragement to help her," she explains.
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