Women History Makers at PacificDuring March, Women's History Month, Pacific looks at a pioneer in women's leadership on campus--and some of those who are continuing the tradition today.
In 1967, Professor Emerita Sally Miller was the first woman in Pacific's Social Sciences division, and she remembers being left out of both decision making and faculty socializing. "Some of us would say later that policy was made in the men's room," she recalls. "It was not a climate that was welcoming of women."
Creating even more professional isolation was Miller's interest in teaching women's studies courses, considered "a frill" at the time, she says.
"In 1973 the first women's history courses were being taught in the country, and I taught one that year here, so we were a pioneering generation," Miller says.
She and the other women teaching women's studies courses had to do so in addition to a full slate of other courses because the university initially provided no support for these courses.
Miller was one of many pioneering women in Pacific's history, a leader who opened doors for the university's Gender Studies minor and for opportunities in scholarship and activism which today's students enjoy.
Miller says that changes came to Pacific gradually, as increasing numbers of women attended graduate school and, importantly, "Men became used to being around women at the same academic level as them; men didn't see women as alien."
Students were enthusiastic about women's studies classes from the beginning, according to Miller. "They were delighted to have these classes offered, and so enrollment kept building. Then the department was happy," she remembers.
Learning about women's history and other gender issues now happens across the curriculum at Pacific. Assistant Professor of History Jennifer Helgren says that students in her women's history classes are exposed to materials and subjects in new ways. "We just did a whole unit on women, war, and militarization and the ways that wars internationally affect women," she says. "To have your focus on a different perspective, it challenges students to think about the past and about women's leadership in different ways."
One of Helgren's former students, junior Christiana Oatman, is presenting a paper at the Women as History-makers in California conference on the history of women's leadership at Pacific based on oral history interviews and on an examination of documents in the University Archives. Oatman says she has been surprised to learn how paths to leadership were differentiated by gender in previous decades: "Judy Chambers [first VP for Student Life at Pacific] told me her leadership opportunities prior to becoming VP in 1976 were only in areas specifically for women, for example, as dean of women."
Scholarship is not the only area in which Pacific students explore their interest in gender issues. Corrie Martin, director of the Women's Resource Center, says that programming through the WRC and other campus groups represents Pacific's "positive collaboration between academics and student life" which often inspires student leaders to pursue meaningful activism.
Take Destiny Robbins '12. The single mother and Pacific senior has had four different childcare providers, as well as friends and family, care for her three year old while attending the university for the last two years. She started the organization Taking Baby Steps to research and demonstrate the need for campus childcare for students as well as faculty and staff.
While Robbins' research shows that Pacific faculty and staff have worked for campus childcare for almost 60 years, this is the first student-led initiative for the cause. "It is my dream to raise awareness about this issue...and things just might change," says Robbins."I was really surprised to know that we did not have a record or statistics concerning how many parents exist [at Pacific]," says Robbins. She quotes her survey results: "Out of the 760 students to take the survey, 9.8% said that they currently are in need of childcare, 14.2% said that they anticipate needing it while enrolled, and 8% have missed classes because of childcare issues."
It's not only women who have taken on gender-focused initiatives at Pacific.
"We have Women's Center on the door, but I'm really proud of the fact that we have a lot of young men in the programs," says Corrie Martin. "We work with men on campus, men of conscience, and they get it, that these issues are their issues, too."
"I want to provide a support group for men of color, for identifying problems and finding solutions for positive interpersonal relationships," says Kobina Armah '12.
Kobina Armah '12 took what he learned in the WRC's Healthy Relationships Peer Education program and developed his own curriculum about leadership and healthy relationships specifically for male students of color in a program he calls Brother to Brother. "I want to provide a support group for men of color, for identifying problems and finding solutions for positive interpersonal relationships," says Armah. A senior planning to graduate this spring, Armah says, "I want to promote diversity and inclusion in whatever field I pursue."
While campuses like Pacific are more inclusive than Sally Miller ever could have envisioned 40 years ago, the challenge, says Corrie Martin, is the subtle gender bias that still exists and is internalized by men and women.
"In some ways, this is the hardest battle," says Martin, "because how do you change people's perceptions? You have to do it through education, through conversation, and it takes a long time. That's what's so great about spaces like the Women's Center on campus, gender studies, and having a conference on women as history makers. We can focus on changing those perceptions."