Three months into her term as chair of the Women Faculty Forum, linguistics professor Claire Bowern plans to focus the forum’s activities this year on the impact women have made at Yale over the last five decades.
“I’m interested in issues of representation on campus — for example, when we talk about women on campus, we often talk about problems of faculty retention and promotion, and less about the fantastic work that women on campus are doing,” Bowern said. “Or we talk about the advantages of gender-neutral language without also considering the ways in which such language may let us revert to our existing cognitive biases.”
The organization’s theme for this year, ‘Representation and Appropriation,’ reflects Bowern’s interest in such issues. Professor of Law Judith Resnik, who co-chaired the organization from 2005 to 2008, said the Women Faculty Forum and the University are lucky to have Bowern as the new chair and that her choice of theme reflects the interdisciplinary projects that are at the core of the organization.
“[I’m looking forward to] getting to know more about all the really interesting research that’s going on around campus and seeing all the different ways that faculty work makes an impact on the University, the country and the world,” Bowern told the News.
The Women Faculty Forum was created in 2001 to “highlight the presence of women at the University and the accomplishments of Yale alumnae,” according to its website. Bowern joined the Linguistics Department in 2008 and is an associate editor of Diachronica, an international journal of historical linguistics.
In past years, the forum has organized conferences, lectures and workshops and has published reports on the demographics of women and minorities on campus. It has also supported an interdepartmental mentorship program, leadership training programs, a seed grant program to invest in the diverse work of faculty and students, a portrait project to increase the diversity of figures in portraits on campus and the Public Voices Fellowship, which assists academics in sharing their research in ways that are accessible to the public.
Physics and astronomy professor Meg Urry, who co-chaired the organization on and off between 2005 and 2008, said she was proud that a number of recommendations in reports published by the Women Faculty Forum on issues such as child care and parental leave were implemented by the University.
“It’s been really impactful on campus in terms of helping women faculty navigate the process for tenure and also offers an intellectual community for women across the departments,” said astronomy professor Priya Natarajan, another former chair of the forum.
In addition to hosting speaker events in the coming weeks and a Wikipedia Editathon during reading period, Bowern said, the Women Faculty Forum will soon release “The View,” a study of gender diversity in the faculty. The organization is also running a faculty interdepartmental mentoring program and partnering with Women in Science at Yale to support its own mentorship program.
“I’m delighted that they are picking [the mentoring] up,” said Natarajan, who focused on promoting the interdepartmental mentoring program during her term.
Under Natarajan, the WFF paired senior and junior faculty from separate but related departments — geology and astronomy, for example — to minimize conflicts of interest. Natarajan added that the Women Faculty Forum has been an important voice in demanding diversity and inclusiveness on campus and should continue to ensure the visibility of scholarship by women of color.
Urry stressed the importance of continuing to acquaint new female faculty members with the organization.
“This year what we really need to do is to bring in more women faculty, especially the newer faculty who may not know what the WFF does, to make sure that the body speaks for the women at the University,” Urry said.
The Women Faculty Forum hosted Wikipedia Editathons the past three Fridays to reduce gender bias on Wikipedia pages.
Eui Young Kim | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Oct. 25: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that astronomy professor Priya Natarajan was a former co-chair of the Women Faculty Forum. In fact, she was a former chair.