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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Sexism is still alive and well at Macalester

One of my classes was on page three of a six-page packet of resumes from former Macalester students when I noticed something: all the resumes were men’s. I raised my hand and politely asked my professor if this was intentional. She looked genuinely surprised and said, “Oh, I didn’t even notice.”

The Macalester student body is 59% women and 41% men. My professor in this class is a Mac alum and a former Wall Street analyst. The media has had a field day in recent years with dialogues about professional and academic women’s choices (or lack thereof). All this considered, I didn’t even think to check the genders of the resume authors because I assumed it would be a non-issue. Of course women would make up half the resumes in the packet, perhaps even more.

I should have been more aware of the trouble at Macalester. There is the recent discrimination lawsuit involving a female professor’s struggle for tenure. There is the fact that the college has never had a female president (as far as I can find). There is Mac’s Institutional Research report which states that in 2013, 50% of “full-time faculty” at Macalester are female but only 37% of tenured professors are female. There is no shortage of similar (and worse) statistics from professional and academic women alike. In their new book The New Soft War on Women, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett give these breathtaking statistics:

“Female physicians earn, on average, 39 percent less than male physicians. Female financial analysts take in 35 percent less than male financial analysts, and female chief executives 25 percent less than male executives. Female MBAs earn, on average, $4,600 less than male MBAs in their first job out of business school. Women start behind and never catch up. This pattern holds true even among graduates from our most elite universities: Female Harvard graduates earn 30 percent less than their male counterparts.”

Only 26 percent of the nation’s college and university presidents are women, and the rate of change has stalled since the late 1990s, according to ACE’s The American College President 2012 report.

Once a fellow Mac student tried to convince me that the reason for the salary gap is that most women take time off to have children, end up with less overall experience, and are paid accordingly. He shook his head in confusion when I explained that this was the problem, that the wage gap is a part of a much bigger issue, that women without children still earn less than men. This is when it occurred to me: no one has handed him a packet of resumes by only female alums. He’s never been interviewed by only female directors at a high-powered firm. He may never have to choose between having children or his career. He may never be passed over for a job, a promotion, a tenured position or an opportunity because of his gender.

Macalester has not prepared him to think about this issue nor empowered him to do anything about it. Macalester is not immune to sexism just as it is not immune to any other kind of discrimination. This does not excuse the resume packet incident. The college ought to consider the messages it sends in cases like these. These issues are pervasive, and it is the college’s responsibility as a liberal arts school to prepare its students to handle these issues with clarity, poise and determination. This is a critical dialogue for young people to have, especially young Macalester students, who are deeply driven and are true agents of change. I challenge Macalester to examine how it teaches (or doesn’t teach) about the challenges facing young women in academia and the professional world. There is enormous potential here for the college to become a resource for women as they start to face issues like these, but this potential is presently untapped.

I can’t stand idle complaining, so now I’d like to offer some solutions. First: mentorship programs, if intentional and well-supported, can be great tools for women in academia and the work world. Such a program may already exist for faculty at Mac—I’m not sure—but if it doesn’t already it could make a difference. Second: a concerted effort by college faculty to recognize and discuss these issues in class, outside of class, at any chance they get could make a big difference as well. My friend might have benefitted a great deal from an open conversation with a professor who has experienced the struggles that he hasn’t. Third: openness. If I felt that this was an issue I could talk openly about with folks on campus—students, faculty and staff alike—I might have felt less alienated and more supported. The fact of the matter is that most female grads will probably face these issues while on campus, if not immediately after graduation. Fourth and finally: conversations about the struggles professional and academic women face must be honest, practical and common. Discussing these challenges and how to handle them could be a game-changer for students.

I chose to attack the issue by “leaning in” (per Sheryl Sandberg) as much as I can, striving to get into the system (warped as it may be) and then affecting change from the inside out. This is not necessarily the best solution, but it’s the one I’ve chosen. Macalester must take a more direct approach and face this issue head-on: a packet of only men’s resumes in 2013 is just not acceptable.

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