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Gender numbers uneven

Rohan Anand | Thursday, September 14, 2006

While Notre Dame began accepting women in 1972, 34 years has not been quite enough to balance out the male-to-female ratio – currently a lopsided 53 percent men to 47 percent women.

“It is what it is and hopefully, once we review our numbers at the end of this year, we can go deeper into finding a solution,” Arts and Letters Associate Director Ava Preacher said.

Though the Admissions Office – which has been “gender blind” since 1997 – is working hard to maintain a solid equilibrium in each admitted class, the gender imbalance becomes more clear when students separate amongst the five undergraduate colleges their sophomore year, Assistant Provost for Admissions Dan Saracino said.

The College of Science boasts more women than men, with a ratio of 52 percent to 48 percent. The College of Architecture is nearly even with 51 percent men and 49 percent women. The College of Business, however, maintains a roughly 1-to-3 ratio of women to men, with 38 percent women and 62 percent men, Saracino said.

Divisions in the remaining two colleges, Arts and Letters and Engineering, were not as close. Females leapfrog men in Arts and Letters, with a ratio of 75 percent to 25 percent. Conversely, the College of Engineering has 73 percent men and only 27 percent women, Saracino said.

Despite the breakdowns, Saracino said intended majors indicated by prospective students on their applications have no bearing on their chances of being admitted.

“Quite candidly, intended major plays no role in admissions decisions,” he said. “That being said, we also do not look at one’s ‘intended major’ on his or her application – knowing full well that students will change their minds about their academic intents quite often – when arriving at our decisions.”

Many students, particularly those pursuing double or supplementary majors between two colleges, said the gender gaps are becoming increasingly noticeable.

“There’s definitely a big discrepancy,” said senior Terin Barbas, who is pursuing a major in marketing and a supplementary major in gender studies. “From my experience, business fields such as finance and accounting is male-dominated, marketing is split 50-50, and gender studies is female-dominated.”

Those splits, Barbas said, may be due to perceived psychological differences between the sexes. She believes her marketing major allows her the best of both worlds.

“More men have a tendency to go to business and science because it requires more thought processes, and women opt for Arts and Letters because they are more analytical,” Barbas said. “I think marketing is more creative and leans towards the liberal arts, thereby drawing more women to it.”

In the College of Arts and Letters, however, students said gender differences need to be addressed. Robert Hyde, a senior sociology major and gender studies minor, said that has taken classes with female-to-male ratios as high as 6-to-1 and that many of the courses offered are portrayed as “man-hating.”

“These courses are dealing with feminism that does portray men as being the enemy,” he said. “Because they are all discussion-based, a lot of men feel like they have to come to class prepared to defend themselves. I was among three men in a class of 30 at one point.”

As recent as 2001, men were the majority – at 56 percent – in the College of Arts and Letters, said Preacher.

“While some courses like economics and political science retain popularity among male students, it’s interesting how many other fields, like English, have started attracting more women,” she said. “The imbalance, however, does make it seem that some things belong to one gender and that’s innate, but I don’t agree with that.”

Preacher said that Arts and Letters is currently undergoing a study to examine the numbers more closely and devise a strategy to improve them.

“Throughout the year, we’re keeping a record of how many women and men come in for advising and we’ll see if we need to outreach more to men. Then we’ll be able to determine if it’s a cultural or practical difference preventing [the underrepresented gender] from studying here,” she said.

In the College of Engineering, while men outnumber women three to one, both female students and faculty praise the structure of the school and its improvement in the number of undergraduate women in the program.

“The national average of women in engineering colleges is 19 percent, so we’re above the national average,” said Cathy Pieronek, director of the College’s Academic Affairs. “The question that people have been trying to answer about why more women aren’t interested in engineering as a career field is really the $64,000 question.”

Pieronek said she is especially proud of how the women do not seem threatened by being the minority, which is reflected in the College’s retention rate.

Still, Pieronek said that admissions could help in increasing the numbers.

“What we get, we keep, but what we don’t get, we can’t keep,” she said. “If you want more women in the sophomore class of engineers, you need to have more women in the freshman class, so they need to be admitted right upfront.”

Freshman Nicole Shuttleworth said her engineering, calculus and chemistry classes are “probably 70 percent” male – but that’s not a problem.

“I don’t see that as discouraging at all,” she said. “I actually think women studying engineering are at an advantage, because they do get a lot of assistance from the guys, yet don’t feel the need to compete amongst each other because they exist in fewer numbers.”

Kara Kelly, the College of Architecture’s director of Communications, credited the school’s balance of 93 women and 95 men to a change in era. Now, she said, the career is considered much more flexible for women.

“It used to be difficult to gain a woman’s interest in architecture because the profession requires odd hours, away from their homes when they were raising families,” she said. “We had Suman Sorg, who owns a firm with 20 female associates in Washington D.C., Sorg and Associates, P.C., speak with our female students to remind them [of] the flexibility and balance that female architects can easily obtain.”