I am so glad to hear that there has been a committee investigating the gender disparities at Princeton (Campus Notebook, April 6). When I was there, nearly 40 years ago, I remember receiving three poetry prizes as a graduating senior — the Academy of American Poets prize and two others I don’t even remember now — and being asked (by male faculty, as I recall) to consider giving two of them back so that other students could receive them in my stead. I declined, and felt somewhat guilty for doing so, but my feeling was that they were prizes I had earned and that it was my right to accept them. I hadn’t thought of this as an issue of gender at the time — just as a very strange request, given that the competitions had been open to all students, and I had simply applied as anyone might.
Of course, I have spent most of my career as a women’s studies professor, so there must have been some instructive effect to that experience — as there probably was to having to pledge “on my honor as a gentleman and a scholar.” I hope that has been revised.
While all of the proposed solutions are good ones, the best one, and the freshest idea, is the “five-second rule” — pausing for at least five seconds to give female students a chance to speak. Let’s take it a little farther, in fact: Call on your female students! Give them a nudge, permission, encouragement to claim some airtime. You’ll be teaching your male students something, too: to listen and share the world with bright women. And that’s a plus all around.