EI Hosts Panel on Women in Higher Education
By Mary Frasier, Staff Writer
On Wednesday, March 28 at 7:00 p.m. in CUB 260, the Eisenhower Institute presented “Gettysburg Perspectives: A Panel on Women & Higher Education.” The panel featured Dr. Julie Ramsey, Dr. Jennifer Bloomquist, Dr. Sharon Stephenson, and Joseph Gurreri.
During the discussion, the panelists were asked about how they managed to attain the job positions they currently hold and the challenges they’ve faced along the way. Dr. Julie Ramsey, Vice President for College Life and Dean of students at Gettysburg College, replied with the history of her career at the college. She told the story of how she began her career working as Executive Assistant to the President in 1981 and was the first woman to ever hold the position. When she entered the workforce, there was a major push to hire women, which helped her land the job, but she also endured many sexist comments as she was one of the first females to work there.
“I’ve benefited from being a woman to some extent, but there is sexism. It’s less overt now but it still exists,” she said.
Dean Ramsey explained that while the more overt sexism, such as jokes or lewd comments, has finally died down over the years, she still experiences microaggressions in the workplace.
Dr. Bloomquist is currently the Associate Provost for Faculty Development & Dean of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs. She discussed her role in the linguistic field in general and how not only her gender, but also her race plays a major part in her professional career. She explained that in her field, linguists who study syntax hold higher-paying jobs than experts in other subfields. The subfield of syntax is dominated by white men and it is difficult for women and people of color to find jobs in this area. During her career at Gettysburg College, Bloomquist has chaired the Africana Studies department, and she is only the second woman of color to receive tenure as a professor here. Bloomquist explained that, unfortunately, there is a high turnover rate of professors who are women of color, which leaves more pressure on the few who remain to mentor a greater number students than the average professor. This pattern expands upon an already strenuous workload. Bloomquist also mentioned that the Gettysburg area in general, with its Civil War battlefield history, and the institutional culture that is present tend to keep women of color professors away from the college .
Dr. Stephenson is a physicist and experimentalist, working as the W.K. T. Sahm Professor of Physics and the current Chair of the Physics department at Gettysburg College. She expressed that she has experienced sexual harassment in her undergraduate experience, graduate school, and in her professional career here at Gettysburg. She spoke about one male student she has had in her class that struggles with female authority. The student would claim she graded him unfairly and spoke out against her in the classroom on many occasions. She had discussed the incidents with the student, but he still struggled to see her point of view. She explained, “I could just shut him down in class, I can be assertive, but I have to sleep at night and he is a representative of Gettysburg College after graduation, so we are going to continue do this dance.” Stephenson hopes to help the student learn to respect female authority more before he graduates.
Joseph Gurreri, the Director of Student Activities & Greek Life of Gettysburg College, was not able to speak as much about sexism directed toward him in the workplace. However, he mentioned a time in graduate school when he was in a lecture hall explaining Greek Life to about 800 girls and he was the only man in the room. He had never understood the feeling of being the outnumbered sex in the workplace, but he understood in that moment what it must feel like for many women in their professional lives.
After speaking about their backgrounds and experiences in a career of higher education, the panelists then began to discuss the impact of women in higher education, and how it will continue changing over the next decade or two. The panelists discussed how many liberal arts colleges, including Gettysburg College, are beginning to hire women in the role of president. Ramsey believes that the more women there are in leadership positions, the more other women will be inspired to also aspire to leadership roles in their careers. The panelists expressed that although not all female college presidents have been outstanding in their positions, they agreed that the more diversity brought to the table, the better the academic and social environment of the college will be. Bloomquist especially advocated for not only diversity in sex and race, but in thought too.
Gurreri explained, “If you only have one color on your pallet, sure, you can paint a beautiful picture. But if you add more colors to your pallet, you can make a masterpiece.”
The panelists concluding their discussion by encouraging students to go to graduate school, attain the highest degree in their field, and become part of the rewarding experience of higher education.