How to Support Women on Campus This Semester

A Mindful Approach to Increasing Campus Gender Equity

 

1. Respect female faculty

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a fellow classmate lock into a terse showdown with a female professor, I could pay half my tuition. This situation is not uncomfortable because the student is challenging a claim or because the conflict is informed by clashing political ideology--in fact, that is what makes college a great testing ground for new ideas. These comments are often dismissive or petty, and a student may attempt to exert authority over a woman who has worked in that field longer than they themselves have been alive. My personal favorite event was when a professor said, “You don’t need to lecture me about the 60s, I already lived through them once,” to a student after he kept ‘explaining’ to her how ‘it really was back then.’

What you can do: Respect the accomplishments of the women who instruct us. Be just as receptive to them as we would any teacher. If you notice that she is constantly being bothered over trivial matters or hear a disrespectful comment, consider offering a rebuttal in class, or later thank her for her efforts. You can’t control what others say, but your affirmation could make her day better.

 

2. Challenge a majority male canon

College is wonderful because within each discipline there are resources and writings that truly make it “higher” education. However, most of canonical texts are often male and white, and while that is nothing against them, it doesn’t present all sides of an issue. Sometimes the meaning is less applicable to those of us who don’t fit the demographic of the authors, and these alternate perspectives should be discussed in class to create an understanding that is more comprehensive.

What you can do: Consider what biases might be in these texts and speak up about it in class. Explain how it might be leaving people out. Choose texts by or coauthored by women for your reading and writing assignments. Ask how social issues such as gender may affect the claims within a text.

 

3. Don’t buy into the idea of “male” and “female” majors

By now we should all be familiar with how gender stereotypes affect the aspirations of male, female, and non-binary students. Even though everyone may empathize with a stereotype misrepresenting their individuality and capability, they still exist in many academic fields. There is still an idea about women being unable to “do” male majors, or being better suited for nursing or elementary education. STEM, business, and even some humanities degrees have issues recruiting and retaining women.

What you can do: Encourage women to go into those fields and support them when they do. Be sensitive to harassment or discrimination complaints, and understand that reporting someone is a complicated choice that might result in alienation or retaliation. Above all, offer emotional support and remind other women that they have a right to be there.

 

4. Decide to speak 

There has been many a time where I have sat in class and counted the input from women and the input from men. Try it yourself sometime and see what you find. It is very easy to sit in a class and assume that your voice has nothing to add. Sure, you may have a thought, but you don’t feel confident in your ability to analyze the object of discussion or articulate what you mean. Remember that you likely know as much as your classmates, and that it is important not to self-select your voice out of a discussion.

What you can do: If comfortable, add your voice to class discussions. Speak out on issues that affect you. Voice support for the other women in your class who speak up.

 

5. Redefine “women’s issues”

Many women have expressed discomfort to me at the idea of there being “regular issues” and “women’s issues” in our society. As with many other binary constructs, this is another one to challenge. Being a woman might offer insight and personal experience to certain issues, but it should not disqualify her from having opinions about broader parts of society. Because gender roles, stereotypes, and stratification are so pervasive in our society, issues that seem gender neutral can often impact women and non-binary people in regressive ways.

What you can do: Participate in personal study of issues. Make a connection to them as an individual and as a woman. Use information as a tool during discussions or when making decisions for oneself. Find a specific issue on campus that is important to you and become an advocate for it to your student government.

 

6. Respect different types of feminism

Everybody wins when there is mutual respect on a college campus. Not only are colleges full of diverse experiences and opinions, the people who hold those ideas are here too.? Even when a group of people are united by their support of gender equity, their priorities and expression may be vastly different. Women of color have long been excluded from leadership of feminist movements and have had work stolen from them, and fractured trust is not on them to restore. People who identify as women, femmes, or non-binary have often been ostracized because of gender identity and sexuality, and would remind us to look after more than our “cis-ters.” Women who can’t participate in activism because of young families, disability, or financial strain shouldn’t be treated as any less committed than the rest of us. This list is by no means definitive.

What you can do: Hold discussions that are constructive. Be willing to learn without asking acquaintances to sit down and educate you. Support books and media by people who are different than you. Speak out if you hear something dismissive to others, and make sure your clubs, sororities, and events are accessible to everyone.

 

7. Create a culture of support

It may seem too daunting for one person to make an impact on the issues on campus, but building up others is a way to create healing, meaningful change in an approachable way. No one person is required to overhaul a system, but by supporting women around you, someone might consider entering a prestigious STEM program, running for student office, or finally reporting a person who has caused them harm. At the end of the day, women are capable beings who will accomplish and survive on their own, but communal support will lift them ever higher.

What you can do: Support your female friends and classmates in their endeavors. Make women aware of scholarship, internship, and job opportunities that may help their careers. Introduce driven friends to people with similar ambition, and offer emotional support as they begin their work. Work to build up other women, and avoid habits that tear others down.

 

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Picture 2: https://www.smith.edu/academics/precollege-programs