The Yale Women Faculty Forum held its opening reception on Tuesday in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library as women leaders from across campus reflected on the past and highlighted a progressive vision for the future.
The reception kicked off with speeches from Claire Bowern, the new chair of the forum and a professor of linguistics; Heather Gerken, dean of the Yale Law School; Indy Burke, dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; and Tina Lu, head of Pauli Murray College and chair of the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department. The speeches focused on representation and appropriation, the forum’s themes for the year, and highlighted the achievements of women faculty and alumni from across the University.
“We’re going to lead the world, but the only way we’re going to do it is if we have a more diverse representation of perspectives among our faculty,” Burke said.
During her remarks, Gerken reflected on the legacy of pioneering women who paved the way for her to become the first female dean of the Yale Law School. According to Gerken, one such role model was Rufie Jordan, Yale Law School class of 1886, who became the first woman to attend Yale Law in 1885. After she was told that the school didn’t admit women, Jordan pointed out that the school’s admissions policy did not specify gender and would have to admit her, effectively “out-lawyering” the law school, Gerken joked.
Gerken also commented on the diverse backgrounds of law school students, noting that record-breaking numbers of students of color, women and first-generation college students have been admitted over the past few years. She discussed a recent project that aims to display photographs of accomplished female alumni around the law school. A portrait of Conchita Cruz LAW ’16, who developed a novel way of protecting immigrants in Texas, now hangs where a portrait of John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, once hung, Gerken said.
“We have our past, and we honor our past, but we should also honor our present and who we are now,” she said.
Burke said increasing diversity was a major goal for the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where she is one of only three female professors and the first woman to hold the deanship. Although the school was initially slow to diversify, Burke said, its student body is now about 60 percent female and features a growing number of minority students.
In her speech, Lu spoke of the exciting and dynamic opportunities that accompany leading the first Yale residential college named for a woman or person of color. She noted that it is a special honor to continue the legacy of a woman as distinguished and trailblazing as Pauli Murray LAW ’65, whose photograph was featured on the cover of the program distributed at the reception. Lu, who is currently soliciting design ideas for decorations to the Pauli Murray dining hall, said she was thrilled by the diverse array of artists, many of them female Yale graduates, whose work students want to put on display. Lu added that, by showcasing these diverse pieces of art, she hopes to “infuse legacy with life.”
The Women Faculty Forum was founded in 2001 to help women feel supported and empowered enough to produce their best academic work in the traditionally male-dominated arena of academia.
In interviews with the News after the talk, several female faculty members discussed common issues that women face in academia. For instance, Lu noted that female professors tend to perform worse on student evaluations, perhaps due to a lingering perception that the professor “type” is male.
“Gender equity issues often persist as undercurrents and become more apparent at certain times,” said Emily Stark ’16, a post-graduate associate for the Women Faculty Forum.
More than 100 guests attended the event, including Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley and University Provost Ben Polak. According to Stark, the forum organizers were “very happy with the attendance and the support from the University this year.”
Throughout October, the forum will hold Wikipedia Editathons — events at which attendees edit out incorrect information and sexist language from women’s Wikipedia pages.
Clare Wu | firstname.lastname@example.org