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On an October afternoon in 1997, hundreds of students, alums and faculty gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of Yard dorms to women. Near Canaday Hall, a gate was dedicated to the contributions that women have made to the College.
On one side of the new Anne Dudley Bradstreet gate, a plaque was unveiled to immortalize the words of the female, Puritan poet: “I came into this Country, where I found a new World and new manners at which my heart rose.”
At a reception that day, then-Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles offered a toast.
“Today we celebrate women at Harvard,” Knowles said. “The era of the incompletely opened gate is over.”
A year-and-a-half ago, we set out to investigate just how open Harvard’s gates are to women. With the backing of the Christopher J. Georges Fellowship and the Nieman Foundation, we embarked on a project, ambitiously titled “Are The Barriers Broken?: Investigating The Status of Women at Harvard.”
We found that indeed, the University has made room for women—today’s Harvard is one where women have held nearly every post short of president.
But some problems persist for women here. Harvard is a 367-year-old institution, founded by men, for men, where the disciplinary boards and the tenure system were created without women in mind.
The College’s Administrative Board, which deals with disciplinary and academic infraction, was created in 1890, 53 years before Harvard classes went coed. Now, it renders decisions the most complicated type of case involving men and women: sexual assault.
On the grounds that many “he said, she said” cases of sexual assault are too murky to be fully investigated by the Ad Board, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 pushed through a change to Ad Board policy last year, requiring that alleged victims present more evidence before the Board would hear a case. The change ignited a wave of protest from activists on campus and turned a spotlight on the difficulty the University has in adjudicating rape cases and providing the right resources for victims of sexual assault (See “Burden of Proof,” page 10).
And while Harvard made great strides in the 1990s towards increasing the number of tenured women on the Faculty, many say the barriers keeping women from getting tenure here are as strong as ever. Thirty out of 42 women professors who responded to a Crimson survey last fall said they felt the tenure system should be changed (See “Crashing the Club,” page 26).
These issues, of course, are not limited to this university. When we looked outside Harvard’s gates and organized a discussion among higher education’s top female leaders, we learned of similar struggles at other schools like Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania (See “Women at the Helm,” page 22).
At Harvard, in myriad other ways—from physical details like the University’s portraits (See “Men Rule These Walls,” page 5) to chronic, national problems like the paucity of women in the sciences (See “See No Evil,” page 16)—the culture of the University is often old, male and slow to change.
And Radcliffe—the one part of Harvard that was once geared solely towards women—now grapples with a coeducational mission mandating broad academic scholarship and a “commitment to women, gender and society” (See “Is This Mission Impossible?” page 7).
At the end of the 1997 gate dedication ceremony, the crowd rose and sang an old University standard, “Fair Harvard.”
But the version the audience read in their programs was not the original, written in 1811. A reference to the University’s “sons” in the first line of the song had been subtly replaced by the gender-neutral “we.”
The “we” compromise—negotiated by Knowles just in time for the 25th anniversary celebration of a coed Yard—exemplifies a sincere, if superficial, effort to include women in Harvard parlance.
The Bradstreet Gate was also meant to symbolize the complete arrival of women at the College, but even her story is not as simple as the plaque suggests.
In fact, the quote appears in a letter from Bradstreet to her children— written just a few years before her death—in which she expresses anger at living in a new, foreign world before she “submitted to it.”
“I changed my condition and was marryed, and came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose [in protest],” she wrote in the letter. “But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston.”
More than 300 years after Bradstreet wrote these words, her experience was distorted and obscured to fit a plaque celebrating the equality of women—for a gate into a University that has never had an easy time incorporating them.
With this project, we hope to create a more complete record and to foster a deeper understanding of the experiences of women on Harvard’s campus today.
As this investigation reveals, women may have passed through the gates, but subtle obstacles still stand in their way.
LAUREN R. DORGAN
ANNE K. KOFOL
KATE L. RAKOCZY
CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
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