Women still need support groups
By Rini Ghosh, News Editor
Published on Thursday, March 2, 1995
Twenty-three years after coeducation, women at Dartmouth still say they experience the disadvantages of the College's male-dominated heritage.
Or as Sue Kim '96 said, "We start talking about gender issues and people start rolling their eyes."
But both administrators and students say there is a true commitment to providing adequate support for the College's female population, which is creeping closer and closer to 50 percent of the campus.
Support systems span the entire campus -- from administrative organizations like the Women's Resource Center to academic programs like Women in Science to student groups, such as the Untamed Shrews.
But no student will admit things are perfect. When Danielle Moore '95 resigned Fall term as Student Assembly president, she said there was not adequate support for her as a woman leader on campus.
"Week after week in general Assembly, executive committee, standing committee and task force meetings, the women leading the Assembly are granted no respect and often abused," Moore wrote in an opinion column in The Dartmouth the day after her resignation. "Dartmouth needs to examine the way women leaders are treated on this campus."
As the College has moved closer to gender equity and the campus continually becomes more comfortable with women on it, there is a natural process of women moving into leadership positions.
But administrators and students say women leaders and their unique style of leadership have not yet been fully accepted at Dartmouth.
"I think the campus culture at times can still feel as though it is not as supportive of women as it is of men," said Dean of Residential Life Mary Turco.
As an example, she cited Moore's negative experience as Assembly president last term. But Turco said the current presence of numerous women leaders on campus is a "great symbolic sign."
The current president of the Assembly, Rukmini Sichitiu '95, is a woman, as are presidents of the senior, sophomore, and freshman classes.
Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia said she has seen women in leadership positions accepted as leaders but not accepted in their style of leadership.
"Women still have difficulty if they want to use a women's leadership style or if they want to bring some of their own perspectives as women," she said. "It's the concept of inviting a vegetarian to dinner and serving them steak."
Sateia said she recently started the Women's Leadership Program, an informal tea where women leaders can gather to support each other.
"It's just to create a network to give women leaders a chance to bounce ideas off of each other, support one another," she said.
A program to develop a leadership program for high school women also exists, she said."We use Dartmouth women to be the peer facilitators in that program and the mentors in that program," she said. "That helps the Dartmouth women -- it's a sort of mutual benefit, and that's a plus."
When Moore resigned, she told The Dartmouth that Assembly members would not listen to her, constantly questioned her decisions and yelled during meetings. She said this did not happen as frequently to male leaders on campus.
Administrators and students both say they think more can be done to support women at Dartmouth.
"As I talk to women, it seems like women have access now to more things, but they still feel that there's a lack of support," Sateia said.
"I think Dartmouth women feel supported, but I think at the same time they don't feel that they can fully express themselves," she said. "For some reason they don't feel we are creating an environment where they are free to express themselves."
The College has numerous sources of support for women and "has to be doing something right," said Mary Childers, the director of equal opportunity and affirmative action.
"There are times when I think what women most need is space," Childers said. "Fraternities have a disproportionate amount of social space on campus." There needs to be "female turf" where men come, she added.
"We are not weak," Childers said, but she feels women need recognition, inclusion and equality on campus. She said she thinks Dartmouth should not stop working to improve the situation of women on campus.
Women's Resource Center Director Giovanna Munafo said it is difficult to make any sweeping generalities about how well Dartmouth does supporting its women.
"I think like any institution of higher learning, it's a mixed bag," she said. "There's a lot of really good things and there are some things that aren't working well. Yes, there's sexism at Dartmouth. But there's sexism everywhere you look."
"I think Dartmouth has come a long way and still has a bad reputation nationally that isn't quite fair," she said. "There's plenty of work to be done, but nor are we like the Neanderthals of the nation here."
But Munafo said at least a good support structure exists on campus.
"There are some very good places for people to go," she said. "I think the question of enough has to be answered by the students, and faculty and staff themselves who have issues."
"There are women on this campus who will tell you that there's not a single support person here with a radical enough feminism for them to be comfortable talking to," she said. "And there are women who think all the support people who are women are radical feminists."
Rebecca Bishop '95 said she feels the College does a good job of providing support for women, but the nature of Dartmouth students is to be "hesitant to ask for help."
The services the College offers appear to be for people who cannot cope she said. The majority of students on campus are "independent people," who want to attempt to deal with problems on their own, she said.
Bishop, the area coordinator for the Ripley-Woodward-Smith dormitory cluster, said though the support groups may not be prominent, they are important for someone in her position.
When students come to her with problems, she can refer them to the appropriate source of help, she said. The support groups are like "putting a Band-Aid on the wound," she said. The College must try to avoid the wound in the first place, she explained.
Bishop said she feels many of the gender problems at Dartmouth stem from the "heavy lack of respect on campus between men and women."
She said she believes the campus needs more coed houses to promote intermixed learning and "foster understanding" between the sexes.
Lischa Barrett '95 said she agrees "there a lot of resources for women in general," but said women do not utilize them.
But Carol Lee '97 said she thinks the support system itself "could definitely use some help. I couldn't even find the Women's Resource Center until my freshman spring."
"Like it or not, [the College] is still trying to come to terms with going coed," Lee said.
The Women's Resource Center
One of the major sources for support on campus, the Women's Resource Center "is here to celebrate the achievements of women, and to investigate the ways gender shapes everyone's experience here and outside of Dartmouth and to support individual and group struggles to achieve equity and fair treatment," Munafo said.
The center is currently located in the Choates dormitory cluster, away from the center of campus.
Munafo said this location hinders the role the center can play on campus. "Part of the problem is where we are," she said. "People don't know where it is. They don't see it. It's not convenient."
She said the center provides support for women through various programs and is "a place that can help to enrich the culture at Dartmouth in a lot of different ways."
Munafo said the Women's Resource Center is not just a crisis center.
"I think the WRC is more than that," she said. "It's a place that can help to enrich the culture at Dartmouth in a lot of different ways and its not just a crisis management center," she said.
Munafo said she is gathering information from people to find out what other support groups should be included on campus.
She said many of the groups that currently meet at the center have, for the most part, been organized by others. Now, Munafo said the center will listen to people's "ideas about what they wish were available," and try to meet those needs.
The Dean of the College's office roughly doubled the center's budget this year, which will give it more flexibility in programming, Munafo said.
"Its not the kind of budget that would enable me to do a lot of things I would love to do, but it will free up a little bit," she said. "Given the budget situation and the constraints I know are on the Dean of the College area, it really demonstrates the kind of commitment there is for the Women's Resource Center from that office."
Munafo said she feels the administration is committed to providing support for women at the College, but "commitment at this level doesn't necessarily translate to action at this level."
She said she wants to implement more programs to support faculty and staff women.
"We do have a program for faculty that's very productive and very successful called the women faculty mentoring network," she said. "That's been around for at least six years. It pairs junior women with senior women and that's really great."
"The Women's Resource Center, whose mission is to serve all of the men and women at Dartmouth, including the faculty and staff, as well as the students and even the alums, is just beginning to try to provide services and resources to some of the constituencies who could use them," she said.
Munafo is currently trying to get approval for a task-force to do a comprehensive assessment of women at Dartmouth and plan a celebration for the 25th year of coeducation.
Munafo said one of the most important functions of the center is to provide a space for student groups to discuss women's issues.
For example, every Wednesday night, the center hosts the women's coalition dinner, which enables women to gather and discuss the events of their lives in an intimate setting, Munafo said.
Lee said the dinners provide a "general sense of comfort," where students can meet new people and make friends.
Barrett heads the Sisterhood support group at the Center. Sisterhood is a support group for black women on campus, run through Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Delta Sigma Theta is the College's only historically-black sorority.
"We talk about issues dealing with complex problems that arise," Barrett said. "There has not been a forum for black women at Dartmouth." Issues discussed include sexual assault and interracial dating, she said.
Barrett said the group allows members to talk to one another about similarities and differences and to develop the bond of sisterhood.
"I don't think they spend all of their time talking about racism or prejudice or how to deal with unfair treatment, but it's one of the reasons why they come together," Munafo said. "I think the center supports that mission by providing the space and being here to consult with them when necessary."
Kim said she ran a support group for Asian-American women at the center last term.
"It's not a matter of specifically Asian-American women needing support," she said. "[There] needs to be a rethinking of what our entire society values and what it prioritizes."
She said she feels discrimination is harder to define now, because there are no specific laws, such as the "Jim Crow" laws of the past.
"Discrimination is much less open and blatant than in the 60s." she said. She said she does not feel the problems are unique to Dartmouth, but she expects "more from my peers, because we're at an Ivy League institution."
Many female students say they get most of their support from all-student groups they participate in.
"The Decibelles is my biggest support group at Dartmouth," Jennifer McCullough '97 said.
The all-female a cappella group is composed of women who love to sing and spend time with each other, she said.
McCullough said she enjoys knowing that people come to see the Decibelles for their singing and not to view them as sex objects. "It's a wonderful time," she said.
But McCullough said she feels though the "College tries really hard," students still do not take some women's issues seriously enough.
She referred to the numerous jokes she heard in reference to posters advising women to stay in "packs" for safety during Winter Carnival weekend.
"I think it's more the students who need to make each other aware," she said.
Lauren Lieberman '95, a member of Untamed Shrews, a women's collaborative theatrical group, said the group provides a source of support for her at Dartmouth.
"I think that support has a different meaning for different people," she said. "The word support often takes on a connotation of helplessness, leaning, dependence."
"To me, it has a lot more to do with identification and recognition, and that is where the Untamed Shrews comes in," she said. "When women are in our audience, we are not a support group in which women will be seeking council, but where they may find that their experiences are not all that unique."
Lieberman said she feels the issues raised by the Untamed Shrews stimulates the campus to think about important things.
"This discussion and questioning enhances the college experience everywhere, but especially here at Dartmouth, a traditional, conservative school," she said.
Lieberman said she does not feel discriminated against at Dartmouth as a woman. "In fact, I feel that being at Dartmouth, being a woman is something that has become important to me, something that I am proud of. I never thought about my identity before college in terms of gender," she said.
Women in Science Project
One of the underlying philosophies of the Women in Science Project is that not every woman needs the same type of support at the same time, said Mary Pavone, WISP's director.
"I don't think it's for any lack of aptitude that women need support," she said.
Associate Dean of the Thayer School of Engineering Carol Muller and Acting Dean of the Faculty and Chemistry Professor Karen Wetterhahn co-founded WISP in the fall of 1990. The goal of WISP is to get more women to take science courses, to major in science and to pursue science-related careers.
The Class of 1994, the first class to participate in WISP, had 100 science majors, more than double those in the Class of 1990. Last year there were 800 women and 130 faculty members involved in WISP.
According to Pavone, a peer mentoring program, freshmen research internships and weekly drop-in tutorials are the three main activities provided by WISP.
The mentoring program pairs upperclass and freshman students with similar academic interests, she said. But she said "what really makes these mentoring matches click ... is finding other things in common."
The freshman internships allow women to get actual experience in scientific research, while the weekly tutorial sessions allow students to receive one to one academic support from women students, although men are also encouraged to attend, Pavone said.
Men have traditionally predominated the sciences, she said, so women "feel more comfortable when they are given support and encouragement."
Women in Politics
According to Katie Neuman '97, the current intern for Women in Politics, the organization run by the Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences is the only women's politics group in the nation.
WIP provides women with a network and a opportunity to meet other women who encourage and inspire them, she said.
The group is "heightening the awareness of" how women can reach out on campus, Neuman said. In addition, WIP educates people about the impact of women and helps students develop their interests, she said.
Neuman said the group is open to a broad audience, including men, and about 10 people come to the weekly meetings.
"In general, Dartmouth is very receptive to women," she said. But she added that women do not take enough advantage of the opportunities on campus.
Neuman said she feels women perceive a stigmatism in utilizing the opportunities given them, as if they are receiving an "unfair advantage" over men.