When the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership was founded by President Tilghman in December 2009, its stated goal was to address an increasingly evident and concerning fact: women at Princeton were, in some way, flying under the radar. The number of women involved in leadership roles and the number winning academic prizes took a nosedive beginning in 2000. Somehow, the experience of women at Princeton was fundamentally different than that of their male peers.
President Tilghman charged the committee to address “the critical question of whether women undergraduates are realizing their academic potential and seeking opportunities for leadership at the same rate and in the same manner as their male colleagues.” After a year of work in focus groups, committees, surveys, and conversations, here’s what the committee of 9 faculty members, 6 undergrads, and 3 administrators came up with.
Overarching theme: There are subtle but real differences in the way that women and men experience college life, and this finding is not limited to Princeton’s campus.
Redefinition of leadership: Women participate in a range of extracurricular activities on campus, and hold leadership positions that tend to be “behind-the-scenes.” The summary report notes, however, that “
Leadership style: While women and men, alike, agreed that women keep the gears turning in the organizations in which they’re involved, the committee found that women “consistently undersell themselves” and that often, men are more quick to voice opinions in group settings.
Academic achievement: The findings of the committee suggest that women are consistently achieving higher GPA’s than male peers and are more likely to receive honors in general, while men are more likely to receive highest honors.
Importance of support systems: The committee noted women’s increased need for strong beginnings at Princeton in their on-campus involvement, the benefits of mentoring for women in an environment in which women feel greater pressure to behave in specific ways, and the importance of affiliation with other women.
In response to these issues, the committee made five general recommendations for the University:
- To increasingly recognize leadership efforts of both men and women
- To confront stereotypes that may hinder women from running for leadership positions on campus
- To describe in greater detail what leadership roles entail
- To celebrate academic achievement in all departments and address any disparities in achievement
- To encourage all undergraduates to address and dispel residual gender prejudices that may be present in campus social life
Additionally, five more specific recommendations were made:
- To restructure orientation activities in order to involve upperclassmen, to better prepare incoming students for positions of leadership, and to encourage students to participate in a “re-orientation” program after fall break to continue the efforts of orientation
- To improve current mentoring opportunities for incoming students by a.) strengthening the current program of peer-to-peer advising with the possible addition of a peer advising system for female underclassmen in the residential colleges, b.) expanding the current model of faculty mentoring, c.) including grad students and alumni in mentorship, and d.) offering prizes to exceptional mentors
- To increase faculty awareness of campus-wide issues by providing high-achieving students with encouragement to apply for fellowships, graduate programs, etc., using gender-neutral grading techniques, and minimizing competition among students by focusing on collaborative learning
- To improve and build upon existing leadership training programs to make them more widespread, as well as to invite women to assume positions of leadership and to encourage cooperation between different student leaders on campus
- To periodically reassess the situation of men and women on campus through data collection to keep goals of gender equality in sight, with the specific goal of a follow-up to coincide with the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Princeton in 2019
Check out the full report for more detail on the committee’s findings and recommendations, or Professor Evan Thomas’ take on the issues here. Further discussion with committee members about the report will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, in Dodds Auditorium.