A Woman's World (Part II)
France Griggs Sloat
It’s better for women today, she says, but they still face many challenges that men don’t. Women in general are more likely than men to experience poverty and violent crime. More women are raising children alone. And women still lag behind men in educational attainment, employment, income and professional status.
Such pressures take their toll physically, too, leading to a greater need for women’s health services. In addition to offering more gynecological services to women, the McGrath Health and Counseling Center is handling its share of women students suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia. Many women struggle with body image issues, and McGrath has seen an increase in women students with eating disorders in the last few years. There were six in the first half of last year alone, says Dr. James Konerman, medical director at McGrath.
Women students also deal with increasing incidents of sexual harassment and assault—as they do on most colleges campuses in the U.S. The University is responding with updated discipline policies, an emergency hotline, round-the-clock advocacy assistance and student orientation sessions about dating and sexual power issues.
“Despite the real progress, there still remain a number of obstacles women face,” she says. But she notes the focus on women is expanding. For example, the faculty is proposing to increase the number of gender and diversity studies credits within the required core curriculum. The women’s center will address all these issues. But it will also reach out to men.
“It’s a women’s center, but it’s going to serve all students, including male students,” says Luther Smith, dean of students and assistant vice president for student life. “There will be educational opportunities for young men to learn what their responsibility is in making a safer, more accepting environment and what they can do to stop issues like rape and advocate more on women’s issues.”
In February, LaGrange returned to the University to give a presentation for a gender and diversity forum about her early days on campus. She talked about how hard it was at first—the ugly “You don’t belong here” comments from guys and the professors who would invite her to leave the classroom because of the sensitive nature of their lecture topic. Once she was asked to leave an English class because they were viewing etchings containing partial nudity. She declined.
Another time, when she questioned a grade as her male classmates had done, the professor asked her to stop by his office to discuss the grade in private, an invitation he had not offered the men. She declined that, too.
“I had a professor whose simple line was that women didn’t belong in the University but at home pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen making meatloaf. I could never tell how much he was kidding and looking for debate or how much was serious, but he certainly and consistently put down women,” LaGrange says.
There were great moments, too, such as when a group of freshman guys sat with her and her girlfriend at a football game to thwart ugly comments by upperclassmen sitting a few rows above. To the University’s credit, she says, much of the harassment stopped after her first year, especially as she became involved in activities like student council. In fact, as events like Martin Luther King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations, the Vietnam War and the Kent State killings took place, the presence of women became less of an issue. Everyone was focusing on the outside world. “Being a woman didn’t matter anymore,” she says.
By the time she graduated in 1970, the dress code was gone, she was living in a women’s dorm, and women were pouring in to take their place on campus. By 1980, women students outnumbered men and have ever since. This year is no different. The new freshman class is 56 percent women and 44 percent men—something LaGrange could never have fathomed in 1966 when she and her girlfriends faced freshman year alone.
“I don’t think I ever realized fully what I was getting into,” she says. “I just wanted to be a student. I didn’t feel like an integrator at all. We just hid in the ladies room and went to class and tried to make it work for us.”