Recruiting efforts of the 1970s began
to draw more women to RPI, from 27 graduates in 1970 to 191 ten years later.
As the numbers increased, the need for more services for women students
||Noting that incidents of sexual discrimination
and harassment occurred on campus, Vice President for Student Affairs Lee
Wilcox suggested a task force to assess the situation. In 1983 President
George M. Low authorized the Task Force on Women Students and Institute
Environment, which was charged with reviewing the campus environment as
it affected women students, and identifying ways in which it might be improved.
One immediate result was the creation of Women
Student Services under the direction of the Dean of Students.
||Another effort, the Women in Technologies
Initiatives Plan, was announced in the fall of 1988. Associate Dean
of Students Jacqueline Peterson outlined the plan at the first Rensselaer
Forum for Women. In an interview for the Review (November
30, 1988) she stated that "the plan looks at the lack of role models for
women on this campus and calls a lot of attention to having women students
interact with women in the community and with alumnae." It concentrated
on five areas: personal development, professional development, counseling,
enrollment management, and the campus environment.
|As the actions of the Rensselaer administration
changed, attitudes among the campus community also changed. A pair
of articles by Myles Brand (Class of 1964) illustrates this development
particularly well. In a 1963 editorial in The
Engineer, Brand argued against a coeducational Rensselaer, which
had a long tradition of "a certain masculinity and informality." Mixed
gender classes were likely to create "distractions [which] can only hinder
and never help the pupil."
Twenty-five years later, the editorial was reprinted
in the Fall 1987 Engineer as part of a 40th anniversary retrospective
of the publication. Brand responded with an article in the September
1988 Rensselaer magazine, lamenting "how short-sighted and parochial
this position was." Recognizing the need for more engineers and scientists,
Brand outlined approaches universities could take to encourage women to
pursue such fields successfully.
attitudes, increasing opportunities, and the efforts of faculty and staff have
resulted in numerous advancements for women at Rensselaer. In 1998, women constitute
23% of the undergraduate enrollment and more than 25% of total graduate students.
The women faculty is approximately 15% of the total faculty at Rensselaer. Over
30 directors of programs or special centers are female, along with two deans,
one associate dean, and four assistant deans. Currently the Secretary
of the Institute, the Vice President for Advancement, and five members of the
Board of Trustees are women.
|Most significantly, on December 11, 1998,
the Rensselaer Board of trustees announced the appointment of Dr.
Shirley Ann Jackson as the 18th president of the Institute. As the first
female president, Dr. Jackson's leadership is welcomed as another positive
step for women at RPI.
Fifty years after women first entered the
Institute, Rensselaer no longer quibbles over whether it is coeducational;
women are clearly here to stay. From the intrepid few who first ventured
into RPI classrooms in the 1940s to the increasing numbers of female students,
faculty, and staff who study and work at RPI, thousands of women have altered
the face of Rensselaer.
||And while women are still a minority
on campus, in many ways the numbers don't tell the whole story. For
example, from 1983 to 1998 six women have served as Grand Marshall, the
highest student office on campus. During the same time span, eight women
have been elected President of the Union, and many others have occupied
leadership roles in student government, campus publications, athletics,
clubs and professional societies, and every other type of activity at Rensselaer.
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