A numbers game
Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, April 1, 2004
This past week, The Observer has run a series of articles about gender and balance in the different colleges. The main source for these articles has been data gathered by the Office of Institutional Research. However, these stories have only been covering half the issue. Numbers only tell one side of the story, an objective side. By using these numbers to attempt to make a more subjective comment about gender imbalance, the series of stories has done an injustice to reality.
The stories are filled with quotes from students enrolled in the particular colleges telling why they want to be there. That is fine. But why didn’t The Observer ask students why they did not choose one college or major over another? Why aren’t all the girls enrolled in English enrolling in engineering or science? Maybe they just don’t want to.
There are many, many factors that go into choosing a major that cannot be revealed by numbers or clever pie charts. People choose things for many different reasons – which I believe have nothing to do with “gender bias” or “imbalanced” departments. There is no subjective voice in any of these articles. They’re all based on a number game.
My roommate started off in math but switched to art history. Was she threatened by the lack of female co-students or female faculty? No. It was hard and she wanted to cultivate her other gifts for interpretation and her love of studying something less objective.
My father started off as an engineer here in the late seventies, he graduated with a degree in accounting and then went on to law school. He was forced into engineering and hated it.
There are a myriad of reasons why students choose one major over another, none of which were articulated in the three-part series of articles this week. I would recommend asking classmates why they chose what they did and what led them to their major choices, rather than relying on statistics.