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Undercurrents of equality

By Craig Jungwirth

The Visiting Committee studied the quality of life for women students.

Andrea McGimsey '87 chaired the presentation on the quality of life for women students.

McGimsey, along with Bonny Schwenke '86 and Denice Denton G, participated in the discussion. The panelists identified several factors as influences on the quality of life:

Discrimination

"MIT is good at avoiding explicit discrimination," said Schwenke, but "undercurrents" indicate discrimination does exist at MIT. "Channels to the Dean's Office are unclear," she added.

The "Dean's Office needs to develop an awareness of displeasure" expressed by women students, Denton said. Pornography on campus is "definitely a big issue," McGimsey said.

Women also have less interactions in classes and activities, especially sports, she added.

Opportunities to join study groups are also limited by the minority status of women on campus, according to Schwenke.

Housing

Women at MIT feel as if they are objects, Schwenke said. She commented that the "male/female ratio is a two-edged sword -- people don't really want to know you ... as a friend ... they really want a date."

The minimum requirement of 25 percent of a co-educational dormitory be occupied by women is inadequate, according to McGimsey. She also said that the small number of women in some dormitories can lead to unrealized harassment.

Denton reported on figures gathered in a survey of some 600 Course VI graduate students that indicated the lack of graduate housing led to decentralization of the graduate community, especially the 48 percent of the women who responded to the survey.

Academic Barriers

Twenty-five percent of the women graduate students surveyed indicated that "pace and pressure ... was detrimental to [their] health," Denton said. Difficulty in meeting research demands and developing research skills were also noted as concerns of women graduate students in Course VI, according to Denton.

A general lack of confidence, role models and networks to facilitate meeting other students were also mentioned as concerns in the survey, Denton said.

She suggested that the rigorous implementation of affirmative action programs would improve the confidence of women students by providing more female role models in the science and engineering faculties.

Seventy percent of all women graduate students polled felt isolated in their research groups, she continued. But the Graduate Student Council (GSC) is working on improving graduate student activities, she said.

Schwenke noted "a need for seminars on integrating career and social life" to improve the quality of student life for women at MIT.

ODSA Support

Denton cited the importance of the Staff Assistant Position for Women Students' Interests in the Student Assistances Section of the ODSA as a unifying force for the women's community. The coordination of improvements in The Margaret S. Cheney 1882 Room and the publication of The Cheney Room Papers have served as a gathering place and a source of information for women on campus, she said.