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Women's Studies, Finally

By Corinne E. Funk

Recently, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 formed a committee of students and faculty to examine the current state of women at Harvard. Initially it might seem strange to form a task force to assess the needs of women. After all, we make up almost half the undergraduate population and on the surface appear to be very well-integrated into daily life. However, many of us have felt that the need to look below this surface, to see if this integration has indeed been successful, has been ignored far too long. On a campus with no women's center and with females making up just over a tenth of the faculty, this committee is sorely needed.

It is rumored that the last official long-term study on the "status" of women at Harvard was done in the early 1970s. While the pessimist might say the study is just as relevant now because very little has changed since then, there has been at least one fundamental change--at the time of the last study, women undergraduates still attended Radcliffe College. It is a grave problem that the impact of the major structural change of the merger between the two colleges in 1977 has not been examined. Women have only attended Harvard for a fraction of its history--how are we faring?

Various groups, including the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard, started by Radcliffe alumnae to promote the hiring of women faculty, have called for another study, or at the very least a survey of undergraduate opinions on gender dynamics. While no official study has yet been proposed, it is my hope that Lewis' working group--a hands-on survey of active and interested students--will be the first step toward a renewed concentration on women.

Unfortunately, every focus group risks becoming a short-lived venture which comes up with many ideas but few concrete solutions. Certainly, problems surrounding the tenure process or classroom dynamics or the glass ceiling in extracurricular activities cannot be solved overnight, and certainly not by one small group. However, mentoring opportunities on a more informal level, input from many different students and gender discussions in proctor groups and in house dining halls can pave the way. The burden for the committee will be to translate the ideas and complaints that arise behind their closed doors into programs which will become stepping stones to solutions in the coming years.

Glimmers of hope for change within the student body have come from the election of a female Undergraduate Council vice president and a female Student Advisory Committee chair at the Institute of Politics. But such positions of power for women are usually the exception rather than the rule. Time has shown that just having more women on staff in various organizations does not ensure that women will lead those organizations. The interest and involvement of the administration will ensure that the positive leadership trends can be reinforced, and that increasing leadership roles for women students can be mirrored by those for women faculty.

However, many students, even those who are closely involved in promoting Radcliffe programs, have long said that Harvard uses the continued existence of Radcliffe as an excuse for not looking closely at the needs of women. As much as I love Radcliffe, it is not currently meeting the very real needs of the countless women whose academic and extracurricular lives are not centered in Agassiz House. We need strong women in our Harvard classrooms and our Harvard activities to inspire us--not to replace the men who fill that capacity now, but to supplement them. We need to feel that the whole campus is a safe, comfortable place for us to be.

Before we can accomplish these goals, though, we need to have Harvard encourage open and frank discussions of gender between administrators, faculty members, and students. Dean Lewis and the rest of his committee have the potential for bringing about real change. I look forward to hearing the solutions they propose and seeing them put into action.

This is Corinne E. Funk's last column of the semester.

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