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The Life of a Female Computer Science Student

*Disclaimer: This article is in no way a reflection of the University of Toronto, nor the UofT Her Campus Chapter. All opinions are my own personal reflection as a female computer student.

Whenever I walk into a classroom, I immediately begin to count every female that I see. It’s become an instinct; partially to see how much of a minority I am, partially to just see the differences between classes. I’ve always been intrigued about why so few women decide to pursue computer science, or other STEM fields. People often underestimate how difficult it can be to be a female in these predominantly male classrooms. Although UofT is one of the better universities in terms of gender equality, it is often quite daunting for me and for other female classmates; in terms of academics, social settings, and the general energy directed towards us.

My name is Kashaf Salaheen and I am currently a female, first year student at the University of Toronto, St. George Campus, studying computer science. I’ve had a really interesting year so far. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told about how few women are enrolled in computer science. I never really thought about why it mattered, until I came to university myself.

Firstly, when there are less females in the classroom, there is a constant need to ‘prove’ yourself. If I say something stupid or a question that others feel has an obvious answer – I feel as if everyone is judging me and thinking, ‘Wow, this is what happens when you let a woman code.’ If I say something smart – I start feeling that everyone just thinks this was an off chance, and in reality, I’m not that bright at all. This greatly hinders my education, as I feel as if I cannot speak up in the classroom. This is in no way anyone’s fault – it simply comes from me actively being aware that I am a minority in the classroom. This leads to me often remaining silent within classrooms – whereas male students speak up and ask questions freely. While this can be my own shortcoming, I do think my quality of education would greatly improve if I was just as comfortable in classrooms as my male peers.

Moreover, I find that it is often hard to approach my male classmates for help. Although some are very helpful, others are very condescending and rude when I ask questions. As a consequence, I usually talk to my female peers instead. However, there are less females in the classroom, which leads me to have less peers to talk to as a whole. This is just another little thing that prevents me from gaining my full potential in all of my classes.

Perhaps, it’s become the norm in competitive academic fields, like computer science, to have a hostile environment. But, I think it’s time that we educate our male student body to be more understanding and helpful to their female counterparts because that’s the only way all students have an equal opportunity and chance at high quality education.

That being said, it should not be left unsaid that, for the most part, the university does an excellent job at trying to create an inclusive environment, and I don’t think my male peers are at all aware of how it feels to be left out sometimes. However, as it was recently International Women’s Day, I think it’s important for everyone to think about why fields like Computer Science are male-dominated, and what we can do in the future to encourage more and more women to go into these fields. It’s time to really discuss how to get more women involved here. People always say women need to be involved in STEM, but this needs to start from early childhood. There needs to be more encouragement from elementary schools, and there should be programs that let females have a more comfortable environments to participate in. There needs to be significant changes in society, and I for one am excited to see them happen one step at a time.

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Kashaf is a second year student at the University of Toronto working towards a Computer Science Specialist and a Psychology Minor. Along with being a writer for Her Campus, she serves as Director of Events for Scientista and is a High School Outreach Ambassador for Women in Science & Engineering. Some of her favourite things include sushi, Gossip Girl, and Justin Bieber.
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