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Discrimination Outside Class Reported

June 23, 1985|JANICE MALL

In a report titled "A Chilly Campus Climate for Women?" published in 1983 by the Project on the Status and Education for Women of the Assn. of American Colleges, researchers identified 35 ways women students experience discrimination in university classrooms, ranging from a tendency of professors to interrupt women more often than men to sexist jokes in lectures.

Now "Chilly Campus" (Part II) is out, and finds that things are even worse outside the classroom. "We know that professors often treat women differently in the classroom," project director Bernice R. Sandler said in the report, "but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Outside of class--in conferences, lab work, campus employment, extracurricular activities and a host of other settings--women are even more likely to be singled out, avoided or otherwise treated as if they're interlopers on 'male turf.' "

Behind these studies is the distressing finding that a great many women actually lower their academic and career aspirations during their college years. The report attributes this to overt and subtle forms of discrimination that devalue women as academic and social peers in a campus setting.

The report is an overview of research around the country in a number of areas including academic advisory services at colleges, lab and field work, internships, campus employment, health care, campus safety, student government, social relationships and athletics.

Discouraging Behavior of Advisers

One woman graduate student told of having her meeting time with her adviser used up by a male student who came by to arrange a tennis match; both men ignored her. "From the status of the competent colleague, I had tumbled to the status of chair," she said. Studies have found that there has been little change in the attitudes of male advisers and academic counselors. Among the subtle behaviors of advisers that discouraged women were: counseling students toward sex-stereotypical careers; discussing their own work with men but not with women; viewing marriage and a family as negative for women who plan careers, but a symbol of maturity for men; not remembering the career plans women had discussed with them in previous sessions; launching into a "beginner's discussion" about a major or field on the assumption that the woman knows nothing about it; getting to know male advisers on a personal basis while limiting conversations with women to required meetings.

In looking at projects such as lab and field work conducted with other students and with faculty, the study found that male students tend to exclude women from their informal study groups and project teams. Faculty members may be less likely to choose women as research or teaching assistants or to collaborate on research, publishing or conference presentations. Women on projects may be treated as the project "secretary" or a date rather than a colleague--one student who was the only woman on a lab team said she was "never allowed to touch anything and only got to take notes." In addition, lab and field work is frequently the setting for sexual harassment, the report said, such as sending obscene messages on computers. Some women reported such intimidation that they refused to go to labs unless they were with other women students.

Steered Into 'Female' Jobs

Campus employment tends to reflect the discrimination in the larger society. Women who were working while going to school reported being steered into "female" positions, receiving lower-level assignments than men and sexual harassment on their jobs. In internships--employment in students' fields of study--women faced barriers such as not being informed of internship possibilities. Women interns were less likely than men to receive mentors in the sponsoring organization and more likely to be assigned tasks requiring limited ability.

The report's look at social life found many traditional campus activities alive and well--wet-T-shirt contests and such. On a more serious level, it was found that men may dominate co-educational housing units, creating a "locker room atmosphere." Housing options for women are more limited--on some campuses fraternities manage themselves, but sororities must have house mothers as if the men were adults and the women were children. It was found that residence hall advisers do not respond as seriously to concerns raised by women. Sexual harassment and even rape continue to be addressed with a "boys will be boys" attitude--on one campus, male students accused of rape were "punished" by being required to take a course in women's studies.

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