PAW invited readers to offer their views on essays in the May 11 issue by historian Christine Stansell ’71 and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11, a co-winner of the Pyne Prize. The essays responded to a University report that analyzed why undergraduate women at Princeton are underrepresented in high-profile leadership positions and as recipients of major academic prizes. Following is a sampling of reader responses; expanded versions and additional comments can be found at PAW Online (paw.princeton.edu).
In many ways, I am the typical Princeton female: a high-achiever in secondary school who held many leadership roles until she got to Old Nassau. While my lack of leadership goals during my first year seemed the result of adjusting to college and focusing on my academic work, I later recognized that the inherent campus social structure and deeply rooted ideals of antiquity (especially those regarding the behavior of women) were knitted subconsciously into my decision-making.
Princeton is a patriarchal campus. Torn between a desire to lead and a desire of social acceptance as a “Princeton female,” I became a member of the Rockefeller College Council, which allowed me to lead without limelight. By the end of my sophomore year, the concept of “effortless perfection” became second nature. We all seemed to work hard, play harder, and not have a single hair out of place.
Yet there was an additional thread in my social tapestry: Every now and again, I would hear the phrase “rolling with the big boys” or some allusion to the fact that I was sidestepping my role as a “Princeton female.” Perhaps the solutions for gender disparities in high-status campus leadership roles require a looking glass into the dining halls, the common rooms, the eating clubs, and the very social lives of students. It is necessary to recalibrate the relationship between what Stansell calls “others’ expectations” and “women’s reticence.”