After nine students — six of whom were female — were almost forced to take a semester’s leave of absence from the Yale School of Architecture last month following their portfolio reviews, a number of other trends have led to calls for the administration to address some students’ concerns of gender inequality.
In addition to the disproportionate representation of females in the portfolio review, a decline in the acceptance rate for female applicants this year as well as the absence of female faculty members teaching advanced studios has prompted female students to question their role at the school. But Architecture School Dean Robert Stern said he thinks the school places an adequate emphasis on recruiting and retaining female talent, and that though there is room for improvement, the Yale administration would have flagged the school if there were a serious problem.
“We’re fine and comparable to other schools,” Stern said. “Of course, we could do better.”
The school saw a 36 percent jump in the number of female applicants this year, which led to approximately the same number of male and female applicants, but the percentage of female applicants accepted to the school declined from 27 percent to 19 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of males accepted increased from 25 percent last year to 30 percent this year while the number of male applicants decreased by 10 percent.
Stern said the school does not have a female quota in its admissions process.
“Every effort is made to admit women who are qualified,” Stern said. “We want the smartest and most talented people.”
Meanwhile, females are also disproportionately represented on the faculty, especially in higher-level courses, students said. According to University statistics, 28 percent of the architecture faculty are female, compared to around 40 percent at Yale’s schools of art and drama. None of the eight professors teaching advanced studios this term are female, Stern said.
Elizabeth Barry ARCH ’07, one of the six females identified in the portfolio review process, said she feels the imbalance of women teaching advanced courses in the spring is negatively impacting her education.
“As a woman in this architecture school, when everyone you’re looking to learn from doesn’t reflect who you are, that has an impact on your education,” said Barry, who last month co-founded the student group Yale Women in Architecture, which is designed to raise awareness of gender-related issues and provide networking opportunities at the school.
Shelley Zhang ARCH ’07 also said she thinks the gender make-up of the faculty should reflect that of the student body, which is 40 percent female.
Stern said he has carefully compared the statistics on Yale’s faculty gender breakdown to those of other architecture schools, and the figures are comparable.
Barry said the statistics of the portfolio review were indicative of gender barriers that females face at the school, though she emphasized that the portfolio review was not necessarily indicative of blatant sexism.
“It was an eye-opening experience that really brought to focus that there are gender issues, not just within the school or portfolio process, but the larger architectural community,” Barry said.
Zhang said gender discrimination in the portfolio review was indirect, “more of a feeling than anything else.” But she also said the females identified in the portfolio review came from diverse backgrounds and that, in general, not as many females major in architecture as undergraduates compared to males.
“Females who come to Yale have less strong backgrounds than males,” Zhang said.
But Stern said the disproportionate ratio of females to males in the portfolio was “totally a quirk” and that women in the field are able to rise to the top.
“There aren’t so many eminent women in the field now, but more are beginning to emerge,” he said. “And many of these important voices are graduates of the school.”
After intense pressure from architecture students and the greater Yale community, the school’s administration rescinded the order for the nine students in the portfolio review to take a semester’s leave of absence.