Letter to the Editor

To the editor:

The Record’s two-part series on gender disparities (“Examining the gender disparity across academic fields at the College,” March 1, 2017, “Computer science addresses gender disparity,” March 8, 2017) was poorly reported at best. The article last week mentioned only one student organization working on these issues and, even then, did not substantively examine the group’s efforts or the complexities of their work. The Record pitched this series as a comprehensive “closer look” at the gender disparity in STEM, investigating student efforts on campus, yet this article did not include an interview with a single current Williams student. Where are the student voices the Record promised? How does interviewing one professor and one former student (in only one of the five fields the Record initially mentioned) constitute a thorough look at student and administrative work in addressing the gender gap?

Underrepresented Identities in Computer Science (UnICS) is far from the only student group working on issue of minorities in STEM. The AWM (Association for Women in Mathematics), BSTEM (Black Students in STEM) and Women and Gender Minorities in Physics and Astronomy are three active student organizations that have made considerable efforts within and across their respective departments. Failing to reach out to any of these organizations constitutes a major deficit in the Record’s reporting. Speaking as the board of the AWM, we have collaborated with all of these groups and can attest to the significant efforts made by all to promote underrepresented students in STEM. In focusing solely on UnICS without even mentioning these other groups, the Record failed to report the full scope of work done by student groups in STEM at the College. It perpetuates the marginalization of the very issues that such groups are trying to make visible and to combat.

Even the discussion of UnICS lacks crucial details and ignores current efforts. The article seems more concerned with recording an interview with one CS professor than examining and discussing the efforts that UnICS has made. Most notably, the article excluded any discussion of the challenges the group has faced and the concrete steps it is taking. Combating gender disparity in STEM requires substantial structural changes beyond dinners and panels. As officers of AWM, we know that pushing for change in departments is not a straightforward process, and the Record’s failure to report this gives a dangerously misleading impression of linear progress.

Part of our project with the AWM is to discredit forms of advocacy for underrepresented students that rely on reductive progress narratives. For example, some forms point to the existence of student groups as a sign of improvement without acknowledging that structural disadvantages are what necessitate these groups. Their existence means that students are performing extra labor in an attempt to compensate for institutional failings.

Not only did the Record fail to reach out to any other student groups, but they did not reach out to any current students; only former students and professors are mentioned.  Given that this article could have been published at any time (issues of gender disparities in STEM are not going away anytime soon), did the Record really not have the time to reach out to current leadership? 

The only reasonable conclusion one can reach is that the Record failed to investigate the issue thoroughly. The Record should not claim to be writing a “series” on gender disparity without any serious effort to engage in the gravity and complexity of the issue. For the sake of the College and the students affected by these issues on a daily basis, we can only hope its reporting will be more thorough in the future.

The AWM Board

Nina Pande ’17

Kiran Kumar ’18

Sarah Fleming ’17.5

Vidya Venkatesh ’17

Sumun Iyer ’18

Megumi Asada ’17