More Female Students Prefer High-Level Language Classes; Males Take Science and Math Electives

The following piece is the second in a three-part feature about gender on campus. Last week’s article focused on gender imbalance in Economics classes. This week presents a survey of gender across other classes.

Thirty-nine years after merging with Abbot Academy, Andover has achieved a near 50-50 gender split in its student body. Groups of females, however, consistently opt to take certain humanities courses, while males usually frequent high-level math and science courses.

According to enrollment statistics from the Scheduling Office, female students currently outnumber male students in high-level French, Spanish, Biology, Statistics and Philosophy and Religious Studies (RelPhil) electives, while males outnumber females in high-level Chemistry, Physics, Economics and Mathematics electives.

This term, 47 of the 71 students enrolled across French 400, 420, 520 and 600 are female. 62 of 101 students taking Spanish 400, 401, 510 and 520 are girls. There are equal numbers of boys and girls in similar high-level Chinese, German, Japanese, Russian, Greek and Latin classes.

According to Natalie Schorr, Instructor and Interim Chair in French, upper-level French classes have always tended to be female-heavy, though both genders have performed equally well.

Schorr said, “In my opinion, there’s no reason why French would appeal to women more than [to] men, but it has tended to be that way.”

Carmen Muñoz, Instructor in Spanish, said that female-heavy Spanish courses are not unique at Andover and appear at the college and university level as well. “At the university level in advanced Spanish courses… it’s overwhelmingly more women than men in the classes, even more than here [at Andover],” said Muñoz. “The higher the level, the more women there were.”

According to Muñoz, there is a “better balance” between the two genders at Andover, though classes still contain more female students.

Muñoz taught at Harvard University for six years before coming to Andover. One university course she taught consisted of 16 female students and one male student. “We should sit down, think about why [girls outnumber boys] and how maybe we need to make the class more appealing to boys,” Muñoz said. “I don’t know if it’s what we’re offering, the content of the class. Maybe it’s simply that boys have fulfilled their language requirement and want to move on and take other courses.”

Similarly, in higher-level RelPhil classes, female students currently outnumber males. 44 of 74 students enrolled across 400 and 500-level RelPhil electives are female. According to Diane Moore, Instructor and Chair in RelPhil, electives usually tend to be evenly split between males and females. The only discrepancy this term was RelPhil 440, “Nonviolence and Moral Leadership,” which consists of two males to nine females.

In an e-mail to The Phillipian, Moore said, “[The imbalance in the 440 course] is unusual, and I’m not sure why this is the case this term. Though I haven’t taught the course for the past three years, in the years before [this] there was more of a balance. The rest of the classes are generally balanced.”

In Math 530, “AP Statistics,” females outnumber males, with 23 girls out of the 38 students enrolled. There are currently equal numbers of girls and boys enrolled in AB and BC Calculus classes, Math 570, 575, 590 and 595. However, in Math 630, “Honors Mathematics Seminar,” and 651 “Linear Algebra,” boys outnumber girls; 30 of 40 students are male.

Patrick Farrell, Instructor and Chair in Mathematics, said, “Both the Math Department and Science Department have collected data, have looked at the percentage of males and females in higher-level math and science classes, and it’s not equal to what you would expect based on the percent female and percent male in the school as a whole.”

“I think our statistics are much better than the statistics of our society as a whole, so I think there is evidence that we are countering the stereotype here [at Andover]. But [the imbalance] is still so deeply ingrained in our society it’s very difficult to counter,” said Farrell.

In the Department of Natural Sciences, males significantly outnumber females in Chemistry and Physics. Fifty-one of 76 students enrolled in Chemistry 550 and 580, and 53 of the 85 students enrolled in Physics 550, 580 and 650 are male. In Biology 540, 560, 600 and 610, however, girls outnumber boys, totaling 107 of the 179 students enrolled in total.

David Stern, Instructor in Chemistry, said “I do notice sometimes there is a gender imbalance. It’s obvious. It’s in front of me, especially in the Lower classes, Chem 250 [and] 300.”

Stern continued, “I think pushing them, in a kind way, telling them that they can do Chemistry, that they have the ability. I know that as a country the U.S. is shortsided on female chemists and engineers because girls think they can’t do it.”

Stern believes that encouraging girls to take introductory classes, such as Chemistry 250 or 300, would help even the imbalance, increasing the likelihood of girls continuing into higher levels of chemistry.

Stern said, “I try and say, ‘Yes, you can [succeed in chemistry], and you can prove it to me and yourself that you can do it.’ [Female students] are afraid of, maybe, failure so I try and push them a little bit more… to attempt the higher-level classes. I think the boys can do it too, but I think there’s this perception among girls that they cannot. They just have to go for it.”

According to Kheim Doba, Instructor in Mathematics, very few students go on to take math electives after completing AP Calculus. This “bottlenecking” could result in a skewed ratio of boys to girls, simply because the student pool is so small.

However, Doba said that there is often an unspoken perception among girls that they do not have much of a voice in math classes, which could lead to an aversion to higher-level electives.

Doba also said that some of his best students have been girls and he has not personally witnessed a disparity in performance by females and males in his classes.

In Economics 520 and 521, 50 of the 73 students enrolled are male. Christopher Shaw, Instructor and Chair in History and Social Science, also noted that he noticed a difficulty in “retention” of females throughout the Economics sequence, as many female students tend to drop out after a single term of Economics.

“I will say that in the last couple of years our meld has improved. We have been able to retain a larger proportion of girls. I looked at our enrollments this year and in terms of the proportion of girls who have enrolled in our class in the fall, it’s roughly a third of the students that are girls, and that has continued to be the case this term in our sequel course, 521,” said Shaw.