Gender Still Heated Issue Thirty Years After Merger

Since its 1973 merger with Abbot Academy, Phillips Academy has become fully coeducational over the past 30 years, and females have made significant strides in obtaining leadership positions in campus organizations, though they are still in the minority in high level math and science classes. While females comprise one half of the student body, some insist that complete equity for the genders has not been achieved. According to the State of the Academy survey conducted by The Phillipian this week, most students do not perceive a bias toward either gender in the classroom. This statement contradicts the choice of many capable females to abstain from enrolling in higher-level math and science courses, however. Physics 650 is composed of eight students, only one of whom is a female. Although the number of girls taking the course fluctuates slightly each year, it always remains relatively low. Instructor in Physics and Math Robert Perrin noted that math and science courses often show interest in engineering, which has remained historically a male-dominated occupation. However, he observed, “Girls that end up [taking high level math and science courses] tend to be equal talent-wise [to males].” This term, Math 650 is composed of 32 students, 31 percent of which are girls. According to Instructor in Mathematics Shawn Fulford, this number has remained relatively static in the past several years. Enrollment in the Honors BC Calculus Math 600 class, however, has evened out along the gender line in the past several years, and 40 percent of its students are now girls. Associate Director of the Academic Support Center Elizabeth Korn explains that the ratio of males to females in high-level academics may be misleading, as many external factors have influenced student decision-making while choosing classes. “Before arriving at PA, what happened to kids in middle school may affect their future here,” she said. “Girls may have been turned off from math in middle school.” Perhaps the most noticeable and frequently addressed rift between the sexes is the lack of female leadership on the Student Council. In fact, since 1973, there have only been three female Student Council Presidents, with only two, S. Kristina Hult ’94 and Jackie Bliss ’98, in recent memory. Although the obvious lack of equal gender representation seems discouraging, female elected officials expressed satisfaction with their current status. Although she is the only elected female member of the Student Government, West Quad North Cluster President Meryl Mims ’03 feels that she has “as equal a voice as everyone else.” She added, “I have never felt threatened being a female.” Similarly, Junior Representative Ashley Calhoun ’06 and Upper Representative Jenny Wong ’04 are the only female members of Student Council. “The [gender divide] is noticeable, but for the most part things are pretty much equal,” Calhoun said. “I usually get all of my ideas across, but I have learned that, as a girl, I often have to be louder and more determined.” Despite Student Council’s attempt to achieve equal representation of the sexes with the ill-fated gender amendment, the policy was abandoned before it could be implemented. Although many students stated their displeasure with the amendment, as it may have suggested to females that they could not achieve elected status on their own merits, an equal gender balance in Student Council has yet to occur. For many years, The Phillipian remained a noticeably male-run organization, at some times accused of sexist practices and having females who held only minor positions. Although this tradition does not hold true today, there have been only six female Editors-in-Chief since the merger, including most recently Paige Austin ’01 and Kate Elliott ’02. Kelly Sinclair ’03 is the first female head of WPAA since the radio station’s inception in 1960. “Being in charge of WPAA as a female really doesn’t make much of a difference,” Sinclair stated. “I am treated much the same way I think I would be if I was a male.” The Community Service board is one of the few clubs on campus in which the ratio of males to females has remained relatively equal throughout the years. Interim Director of the Community Service Program Mike Koehler explained this statistic, stating, “[The members of the Community Service board] are people who are interested in topics of social justice, and they seek ways to take action on their beliefs. I think that that is a responsibility that speaks to both boys and girls.” If anything, the number of females involved in the program is greater than that of boys, and Mr. Koehler encourages more males to obtain leadership positions.