Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11 became an exception to a trend when she and classmate Alex Rosen were awarded the Pyne Honor Prize this year. Only six of the 18 seniors who received the prize during the previous decade were women.
That was one of the examples noted in a report released in March by the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership, which found that female undergraduates were becoming less likely to seek and win the most visible leadership positions or receive the highest academic honors.
An underrepresentation of women is not unique to Princeton or even to college campuses. Much has been made of an “ambition gap” among women seeking public office, documented in a 2008 report by the Brookings Institution, for example. The report found that “even in the highest tiers of professional accomplishment,” women were “substantially less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to seek elective office.” Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus found the Princeton report even more unsettling: “I can understand that women juggling work and family might be deterred from seeking the political life,” she wrote last month. “But college students? Among the most accomplished students in the country? If they’re not pushing their way to the front now, what happens after graduation?”
To understand what’s behind the statistics — on campus, at least — PAW asked two high-achieving women to respond to Princeton’s report: Thomson-DeVeaux and Christine Stansell ’71, who brings the viewpoint of an early female Princeton undergraduate and who is a scholar of women’s history. Their essays, which begin on page 34, illuminate the challenges inherent in change, and why all alumni — men and women alike — should care.
— Marilyn H. Marks *86