Nancy Hopkins

Mar 31, 2009, 5:30 pm6:30 pm
Free and open to the public
Event Description

Mirages of Equality: Progress of Women in Science at MIT, 1971-2009
March 31, 2009, 5:30 p.m. in McCosh Hall 10
Louis Clark Vanuxem Lecture

Before 1960 there were essentially no women on the science faculties of elite American research universities such as MIT, and few female students even majored in science as undergraduates. The passage of the civil rights acts, affirmative action laws, and the women’s movement opened the doors of academia to women interested in science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) fields. The number of female students in STEM rose rapidly from the late sixties. Most people assumed it was only a question of time before many of these women would populate research university science faculties as well. But it didn’t happen. In this lecture the speaker looks back on what has been learned at MIT about invisible barriers that inhibit women’s advancement in science and steps MIT took to reduce such barriers. She asks whether conscious and unconscious barriers still inhibit women’s full participation in science. Why does it matter that Harvard professors such as Larry Summers, Steve Pinker, and Harvey Mansfield still consider women’s genetic inferiority in STEM fields an appropriate topic of academic inquiry? Finally the lecturer speculates about why women comprise the same percent of the MIT science faculty as they do of the U.S. Senate, and whether the fact that there has never been a tenured female professor of math at Harvard might be for the same reason that there has never been a female U.S. president. What is equality? When will women achieve it? Why we should care.