Though things have changed tremendously since the late 1960s, there remains much inequity in academia, particularly in the STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) disciplines.
Dr. Bernice Sandler, who has devoted her career to changing that scenario through the implementation of Title IX, recently visited campus to offer guidance on how to help promote women in science. “The more prestigious the field, the school or the department, the fewer the women,” she observed.
A fact that has not been known until recently is BGSU’s connection to the landmark legislation that decreed that educational institutions receiving federal funding may not discriminate on the basis of gender.
When Sandler first began suing more than 250 American colleges and universities over gender equity issues, using Title IX as the basis, she did so with the backing of the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), whose founder was BGSU alumna Elizabeth Boyer. A politically astute attorney, Boyer saw that the media was depicting and discrediting groups such as the National Organization for Women as radical, Sandler said. By convincing women in Congress and professions to join WEAL, Boyer created a dignified image that lent more credibility to its efforts. Sandler said she read about WEAL in the Washington Post and immediately contacted Boyer.
“She was a remarkable woman, an incredible mover and shaker,” Sandler said. “The line from Title IX begins directly with her.”
Today, Boyer’s niece, Pat Bliss-Egan, is head of WEAL. Bliss-Egan and her sister Mary Bliss (another BGSU alumna) came to BGSU to meet with their aunt’s compatriot. “Our aunt introduced the concept of an organized resistance. Before, each woman had to resist discrimination as best she could in her own circle—which was about 99 percent ineffective,” Bliss-Egan said.
All agreed there has been “slippage” since the early days of the women’s movement, with young women not realizing they are part of a living history.
Sandler met with women faculty in the STEM disciplines on May 4. Their conversation revealed ongoing gender disparities. Dr. Laura Leventhal, computer science, recalled how, as a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, there was not a women’s bathroom in the mathematics building. Mathematics professor Dr. Barbara Moses, director of BGSU’s Action program, recounted a recent incident that reminded her that old prejudices still exist.
Nevertheless, Sandler said, “this is probably the best time in history to be a woman. We now have very good laws. The overt discrimination is gone, but the subtle discrimination continues. Women’s starting salaries are now equal, but the disparity grows over time. We find men get promoted faster, with bigger raises and proportionately larger increases.”
Sandler said that when she began pushing for gender equity, “I very naively thought it would take a year. But now I see it will take hundreds of years to change the culture. We’re not at all finished. However, our goals are much bigger now, and it’s happening all over the world. There have been tremendous benefits from the women’s movement.”