Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women Faculty and Student Forum

Peter Vilhelm Ilsted, Woman reading by candlelight

At the beginning of the semester, Johann got an email about a women faculty forum for graduate students taking place towards the end of January. He forwarded me the email and though I'm not a grad student, I thought I could just slink into the back, listen, take notes and then be out of there.
Of course, my dream of slipping in and out was not to be realized. I showed up at the room in the Tanner Building and of course it was the small ballroom; tables with flowers, starched table cloths, and a buffet of sandwiches, fruit and dessert. I stared through the full wall of glass doors for a while, vacillating between just sitting at a back table and keeping to myself or going home for fear of embarrassing myself.
"Well, I'm already here, I may as well go in. I can always say I got confused, cover my face and run away."
I sat down at a back table and stared at the floor. Then, "Hi, my name is R____. I want to invite you to come sit with me at that table over there." Yup, you guessed it, the one right in front of the panel of faculty members at the front of the room. Who was this girl to be so friendly?! I tried to mumble some stuff about being anti-social, etc. but she actually had my elbow and was already guiding me over to the table. I'm such a wimp.
I won't drag on any longer about the awkwardness of explaining four separate times (including to the student in charge of it) that I wasn't in a graduate program but just interested; or how I made everyone else at the table feel awkward by not eating because I would have felt too guilty. They were all very nice though, I must say. So. Lets move on to the actual panel.
There were six women, five with PhDs and one with a masters. Two were in communication disorders, one was in sociology, one in recreation management youth leadership, one in microbiology and molecular biology, and one in chemistry. I was a little dismayed not to see any representation from history, english, or humanities, but I guess it is BYU and their graduate programs in those fields are not exactly polished (from what I've heard).
I was not sure what to expect exactly but I think I was impressed, annoyed, and satisfied on some points.
Firstly, I was impressed by what all these women were able to do in managing family life and an academic career. Dr. Bridgewater (one of her students was recently awarded the Gates scholorship) had all four of her children while pursuing her PhD, while her husband was launching a business. Can you imagine? Dr. Forste also had two of her children while in grad school in Chicago.
Secondly, I was annoyed by the fifteen minutes one professor spent talking about, "I don't wear my PhD on my sleeve. That way people will treat me normally." I understand what she thought she was saying, but does she think that maybe her belief that wearing a PhD on ones' sleeve should mean different treatment, might have something to do with getting treated differently in said instance? hmm? Does her PhD give her some superhero powers worthy of reverance? I think we all know intelligent people who do not feel the need to suppress or induldge their every intelligent bend. I think this professor might do well to assosiate with some of those people a little more frequently. Or maybe she threw the statement out without thinking it through. Oh wait, her superior intellect should have checked that. Ok, so I was REALLY annoyed by it. Moving on.
Thirdly, I was satisfied with the overall messages that came out of the forum. I don't necessarily mean that I think they completely answer the questions facing women in higher education (with emphasis on LDS women) but they seem to be heading in a positive and honest direction.

The first point: the myth of balance. Here are a few statements on that:

Dr. Goates (chemistry)- "You're tired all the time."
Dr. Forste (sociology)- "I've never felt it's balanced. It's a juggling act. "
Dr. Freeman (rec. management)- "Balance implies it's all equal. It's not."
They went on to have a discussion (somewhat trite) that if you're not the best cook or scrapbooker because of your career, that's ok. I understand what they're saying, but the tone could have been improved on this one too.

The second point: higher education leads to greater flexibility

Dr. Forste- "Academic life is more flexible with schedules."
Dr. Brinton- "The more education you have, the more options and choices you have."
They then discussed how the more qualified you are, the better your profession, the chances that a 9-5 work schedule won't be restricting you, and you'll be able to make your own schedule more often than not.

The final point, seems to me, to be the lubricant I've been looking for in what seems to be an uncomfortable rub in counsel I heard while at BYU: "Get all the education you can. Go out into the world and be successful. Be in the home to nurture you're family." I had heard the "times and seasons" response from a lot of people, but it never seemed to fit, especially when leaders would encourage family life to begin right in the midst of higher education. It seemed to me if it was times and seasons, then as soon as I got pregnant I should have postponed school for a much later date. While some receive personal revelation that such is the case, I did not.
What I think it comes down to is the idea of sacrifice to attain that higher education so you can meet the standards being set. Cutting out certain things besides family and education can often help bring the time; sleep and hobbies come to mind. This post is getting much longer than I like to normally do, but I think it is something important to consider and I would love to hear what everyone else has to say on the subject.


Bryan and Natalie said...

I think the situations are certainly different for everyone. I greatly respect those woman who can get their masters, their Ph. Ds and have successful careers, all while productively raising a family. There are some that are certainly capable of doing all of these efficiently (for example, i think you would be able to do this fantastically!). But I also see nothing wrong with the women who choose to be a complete stay-at-home mom, as long as their decision to do so doesn't include completely dumping their education, never picking up a book, never looking for ways to learn and continue to grow. I feel that when the leaders of the church talk about how important it is to have the highest education possible, that it doesn't always mean every woman has to get a Ph. D. I think everyone has their own interpretation of the counsel given to us about education and different ideas of what women shoud be doing in the like, but thank goodness that's why we have a Father in Heaven to help us know which paths to choose!
PS. I totally know who Dr. Brinton is. She's married to one of my teachers and comes to give us guest lectures sometimes.

Mary said...

That sounds like an interesting forum. I know Dr. Forste pretty well: she was one of the professors who came on the study abroad I went on, and I worked with her on some research. Love her!