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 also rose.
 
Lee Wilcox, VP for Student Affairs 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.   RPI President George M. Low
 
 
Associate Dean of Students Jaqueline Peterson 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." 
Article from The Engineer, March 1963 September 1988 article in Rensselaer magazine
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.
 

Changing 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. 
 
  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.
 

 
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.
 
 
 

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