Educating Women Students in the Academy to Confront Gender Discrimination and Contribute to Equity Afterward

By Mentkowski, Marcia; Rogers, Glen | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Educating Women Students in the Academy to Confront Gender Discrimination and Contribute to Equity Afterward


Mentkowski, Marcia, Rogers, Glen, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

The Oxford Round Table, "Women in the Academy," brought together scholars from a wide range of universities and colleges. Several scholars had studied how their individual institutions had fared in working to bring about changes in culture and practice so that women faculty members experienced fairer treatment than they had earlier in their institutions' history. With these findings as backdrop, our question concerns a related institutional responsibility: educating students to confront gender discrimination and contribute to equity during and after college. We acknowledge that educating students--women and men--for this learning outcome is often assumed when students are educated in colleges and universities that make social justice a priority for all students on campus. But the question remains: How might institutions better meet their responsibilities?

We answer the question about institutional responsibility by setting forth evidence that the College where we studied this issue does educate students, however indirectly, to confront gender discrimination and contribute to equity while students are still in school. Further, we examined whether alumnae were prepared adequately to confront overt and structural discrimination in the professional workplace afterward.

In our case, the academy is a private undergraduate college for women: Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, founded in 1887. In 1973, Alverno implemented an integrated liberal arts and professions curriculum that is ability-based. Students are required to demonstrate eight abilities in order to graduate. Abilities include communication, analysis, problem-solving, valuing in decision making, effective citizenship, developing a global perspective, and aesthetic engagement (Alverno College Faculty, 1976/2005). One hallmark of the curriculum is that students learn the abilities in the contexts of their courses across general education, the disciplines, and the professions, rather than in separate courses. A second is that students are expected to demonstrate their developing knowledge and abilities through performance assessment or student assessment-as-learning (Alverno College Faculty 1979/1994). Assessment is a process that includes observation, interpretation, and judgment of performance by faculty members and students in relation to criteria. Faculty members provide feedback to students for individual development and plan with them for further learning. A third hallmark is that faculty and other academic professionals educate for maturity, leadership, and service. Thus, students are expected to show integrative and applied learning that enables them to adapt and transfer it to new contexts after college in work, family, and civic life.

The question of whether colleges adequately prepare undergraduates for countering gender discrimination may be moot for students in highly selective institutions who were raised by college-educated parents or other families where college was expected directly after high school. However, seventy-three percent of Alverno's nearly twenty-four hundred undergraduate students are the first generation in their families to attend college. Thirty-five percent are students from various ethnic minority groups (the highest percent of any college in Wisconsin). They often enroll from local urban high schools. Ninety-eight percent of full-time, degree-seeking, undergraduate students received some form of financial aid in fall 2009. While students have a range of majors and they complete general education in the liberal arts, they generally come to college primarily to prepare for professions in teaching, nursing, management, or professional communications: thus the College recently added graduate programs in these areas for women and men.

One issue for this college currently is whether and how faculty and academic professionals both in the classroom and outside it, and their undergraduate students both in the classroom and outside it, confront all kinds of discrimination, including (but not only) related to gender. …

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