Throughout the course of history, women’s roles in society have been questioned and changing. Many universities started as male-only institutions. Later, some colleges decided to go coed, introducing women into a male-dominated atmosphere. This dynamic, especially at Trinity College, brings about questions of how Trinity women have expressed views about gender inequalities at different points since the 1970s, and if the issues they raised vary by type of publication. It also brings about the debate of whether social attitudes of sexism are as resolved as they can be or if an attitude of sexism still exists. The issues women talk about and the types of issues they talk about are important to identifying culture and the change in culture. Understanding how inequality changes and the way it is resolved is important to solving issues that still exist, and issues that may arise in the future. Different sources present variations in the extent to which problems are discussed, the detail provided, and insights to how gender inequality affects different groups on campus. By evaluating these different sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of gender inequality issues, and acknowledging the differences between the sources, this essay argues that the progression of time reveals a shift in themes of gender inequality, but a general attitude of sexism and male superiority prevails throughout.
According to the Noreen Channels Alumnae Survey, common complaints in the 1970s and 1980s were the lack of opportunities for women to bond with professors and equally thrive in an academic setting, and an overall attitude that women were intellectually inferior to men. Coeducation at Trinity College was introduced in 1969, making 1989 the twenty year anniversary. This survey was conducted in the spring of 1990, taking responses from approximately 990 Trinity alumnae women who were students between 1972 and 1989. In the section about social life at Trinity, female students commented that there was a type of bond between the male students and faculty that extended outside the classroom. This type of connection and opportunity did not exist for women because they were unable to make as close of a connection with their professors. Outside of the classroom, women noted that a sort of ‘traditional’ culture still existed in small things like girls waiting to be asked to dance at dances. This culture of women as primarily visual objects with intelligence as a secondary concern is shown where one student noted that the first issue the women’s group dealt with was better lighting in the locker room for makeup (Channels 5). The general attitude was still as though males did not yet view women as equals, as some resented a coed campus, and were amazed when women spoke in class. Male students saw the female students as “girlfriends and tutors — not colleagues or partners” (Channels 6). Some women noted males viewed women in a physical manner rather than intellectual or emotional capacity. There were a couple comments of how women were generally ‘ugly’ at Trinity, contributing to the idea of not focusing on women’s intellectual capability. One female alumni from the class of ‘73 noted that “I discovered that coeducation was a myth. At that time, Trinity was still a men’s institution, with some women in attendance” (Channels 4). Overall, there were female students who found their husbands at Trinity, met great lifelong friends (male and female), and felt satisfied with their education. However, many also felt the social barriers between men and women, the social opportunities for men, the recurring theme that men saw women as objects where very few kept long-term relationships, and the male superiority complex persisted in the classroom and beyond. As time went on from academic concerns in the 70s, to the late 80s more female students commented that academic discrimination deteriorated. However, the social differences and prevailing sexist attitudes were still relevant and clear to Trinity campus culture.
In a Trinity Tripod issue from 1993 entitled “Students Demand ‘Mutual Respect… Without Bias’” by Suzzane Fallender, students rallied in the cause of many issues regarding the students’ voices not being heard. One of these includes an issue of gender inequality where Leana Schusheim ’93, “challenged the process where professors who have been accused of sexual harassment have been tenured as well as the college’s mandating coeducation since ‘it’s like saying that women don’t need organizations to support them against issues specific to them because there’s still a need for support’” (Fallender). The Dean of the Faculty at the time, Jan Cohn, replied to the students saying, “‘students have to stop being confidential. There’s no reason students can’t come to me’” and that the administration was unaware of many of the issues raised (Fallender). In the demand of having two students having voting power on the board of trustees, the Chairman of the time, Chairman Koeppel, said that he “did not see them receiving any more than observer status, ‘but you can never judge how the board will turn out’” (Fallender). This statement does not make it seem like there would be much action. Another statement that holds this same sentiment is the statement of President Gerery who says that this is just a matter of “let’s talk it through” (Fallender). However, today’s understanding of sexual assault factors in an entire culture change and more in depth investigations rather than simple case of discussion. This article goes on to explain the administration was hearing the students’ complaints and was increasingly aware of this. As much as it explains the efforts on the part of the administration to hear students out, it does not mention the specific, tangible ways in which the administration planned to address this. Here in 1993, the lack of action and care taken towards concerns of the gender inequality issue of sexual assault is clear. After reading this this article, readers must ask if Jan Cohn really had no idea such complaints were happening. Readers must also question what change was actually made after this article, what was biased, what was censored, and what the actual victim of this sexual assault had to say in her side of the situation. This minimization of claims and prevalence of gender inequality claims was relevant even in the public article of the Tripod.
Ten years later in 2003, Dean Winer’s Psychology at Trinity in Literature and Life reflects on campus culture and cites common problems he himself had heard from Trinity women. One of the main social issues he discusses involves the social climate at Trinity. Winer explains that many women expressed concerns in terms of relationships. An example he states is that “major complaints by female students over many years [was] related to the problem of ‘hooking up’. For many, if not most women, sharing sexual intimacies with males brought particular difficulties when the assumptions about relationships between both parties were, in fact, not communicated but were often at variance between the man and the woman” (Winer). This continues concerns of sexual harassment. However, this does not mention issues with professors, changing from faculty to discussing social culture and issues between students. He notes that “we had a lot to do including, as examples, confronting the issues of sexual harassment and assault, having appreciation for women in student and faculty leadership roles, recognizing subgroups of women within the student body, such as women of color, and establishing the ambiance of a fully coeducational institution, not a men’s college with some women present” (Winer). This statement almost exactly connects to the statement made by an alumni in the Noreen Channels Survey that commented “Trinity was still a men’s institution, with some women in attendance” (Channels 4). Here as opposed to 1993, there is a change in the way the administration reacts to these claims and issues, and an recognition of gender inequality problems that exist outside of academic situations, including subgroups such as women of color within the category of women in general. This is especially important as this statement is made by a member of administration, and therefore these issues are being recognized by more than students and those involved in the Trinity Tripod.
Seven years later, a 2010 survey by James Hughes explores responses from 206 women and their experiences at Trinity. This survey includes data along with first hand accounts from female students in 2010, compared with a 1990 survey of alumni. Hughes’ survey includes comments on the social climate at Trinity, and the prevailing attitude of sexism. One student recalls that she was sprayed with beer “after refusing to have sex with a hall brother” (Hughes). Another explains that “If you hint at the idea that you’d like to make friends without taking your clothes off, you will quickly be ignored” (Hughes). These sentiments go along with the consistent mentality that women are sexual objects, and here, should be punished in some way for not going along with a man’s desires. This also creates a power dynamic that is consistently seen throughout attitudes at Trinity. It is clear women see this dynamic as 92% of women in the 2010 survey rated “issues of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and date rape” and “being considered equal to men inside and outside the classroom” as important issues to them, increasing from 59% and 76% importance in the 1990 survey (Hughes). The evidence shows that this increase in awareness of what counts as sexual assault and revealing who it has affected has heightened the importance to today. This shift from more basic autonomy and equality with rights and education to social issues and personal safety is shown as the most important issues in 1990 are 83% “contraceptive and reproductive rights,” 82% “employment and educational discrimination,” and 77% “learning to handle the changing roles of men and women” (Hughes). Furthermore, in all seven categories tested, the percent of alumni who recognized discrimination increased since they were in school. This supports the idea that women are becoming more aware of the discriminatory practices and that exist, and still prevail. These attitudes of superiority are ones seen in previous sources including the Noreen Channels survey and Tripod articles.
In 2011, Bryan Weeden discusses issues of sexism in his Trinity Tripod article entitled “Hold the Entire Community Responsible for Bigoted Acts.” He explains his opposition in the wording of administrations statements saying:
“Yet when the administration uses words like “incidents,” we as a student body are led to believe that they are isolated; that these examples of blatant racism, sexism, and homophobia are in no way indicative of a larger issue. I fervently disagree with this notion. […] It is easy to pretend that racism, sexism, and homophobia do not exist on our campus when one does not have to live with their effects everyday; unfortunately, not all Trinity students have that luxury. […] Trinity needs to stop building a culture of acceptance that allows these injustices to pass almost unnoticed. We need to feel this as a community and not just as individuals” (Weeden).
This article expresses strong opinions against the administration’s apathy, progressing from the student who recalled an insensitive Tripod account of her sexual assault in the 1970s. This student recalled that after “getting sexually assaulted in a shower at Trinity” and that she vividly “remember[s] the incident as well as the Tripod writing insensitivity to describing it” (Channels). This is important to note that while the Tripod articles sometimes provide a representative attitude, they can also leave out the severity of different situations. In this way, surveys as opposed to publications may be more revealing. This article, however, appears to be true to the campus climate and reveals the consistent attitudes of superiority that are not just isolated to ‘incidents’ as the administration may make it seem.
As seen through variations in different publications, different sources present insights into how gender inequality affects women at Trinity. In looking at these sources to gain a full view of gender inequality issues, these sources show that there is a consistent attitude of sexism and male superiority despite the shift in themes of gender inequality issues.
Channels, Noreen L. (1990): Survey of the Trinity College Alumnae. (Available at the Watkinson Library).
Fallender, Suzzane. “Students Demand ‘Mutual Respect… Without Bias’.” Trinity Tripod, 23 Mar. 1993, digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1192&context=tripod.
Hughes, James (2010): 2010 Survey of Female Students at Trinity College. Available at: https://share.trincoll.edu/SiteDirectory/irp/sextant/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2.
Weeden, Bryan. “Hold the Entire Community Responsible for Bigoted Acts.” Trinity Tripod, 26 Apr. 2011, digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4173&context=tripod.
Winer, David. “The Transition from an All Male to a Coeducational College: A Dean’s Reflection.” Psychology at Trinity in Literature and Life, 2003, www.trincoll.edu/StudentLife/Diversity/WGRAC/Documents/Spring 2003-2.pdf.