The Task Force on the Status of Women was appointed by President Albert C. Yates in the Fall of 1994. The mission of the Task Force was to define the issues and determine the priorities for women at Colorado State University and make recommendations to the President for addressing these priorities.
There is no doubt that women have made progress over the 125 year history of Colorado State University. As has occurred at most colleges and universities around the country, women have increased in numbers and taken up roles in areas once reserved solely for men. It is because the University has made these gains that it must now look at itself and evaluate its progress. It is time to take action and make commitments that establish a community where women are equal partners with men in every respect. As we approach the 21st Century, Colorado State University must enhance its commitment to addressing the needs and priorities of the women who are currently here and those who are yet to arrive.
What the Task Force has discovered is that concerns of women in 1996 are not dramatically anew. Their needs and priorities have the same focus as those found in the literature and those identified over the last twenty-five years by groups of women at Colorado State. Although some of those issues have taken a different form, they are the same topics that resulted in the creation of this Task Force. Our research has quantified them more clearly and this report offers recommendations for change to address these needs and priorities.
Many women do not perceive or experience CSU as a welcoming place where they can flourish and thrive as equal partners with men. Of course there are oases on our campus where women are respected and included. But women who are looking out from safe havens notice that much of the tradition of Colorado State makes full and equal inclusion of women an immense philosophical shift for some in the University community. If Colorado State is to be a place of equality for men and women, we must work together to change this environment. It is important to note that women of color experience double jeopardy; they face particular challenges in almost every area of the academy; they are affected by prejudicial attitudes on the basis of both race and gender. Every one of the Task Force recommendations must integrate the needs of women of color. We must begin to recognize differences and turn them into strengths.
To identify the issues, the Task Force engaged in a three stage process. First, a literature review of issues for women in higher education was conducted, looking largely at studies done by other universities. Second, throughout spring 1995, the Task Force conducted forty-two focus group discussions attended by more than 250 women and men from all branches of the campus community. The results of these focus groups were used in developing a survey that was distributed last fall to over five thousand women on campus, with an average response rate for all groups of 43%. We believe that the use of multiple research methodologies added strength to the overall quality of the project.
An Overview of Women’s Issues and Concerns
The following overview is based on issues raised in focus groups and on issues supported by survey data. Priorities are summarized in the tables of focus group data (pages 10-11 of report), survey date (page 12 of report), and the percentages and means of dissatisfaction (pages 13-14 of report). These tables show common concerns, as well as those that are specific to certain groups of women.
The issues and concerns for women on the Colorado State campus are broad in scope. The concerns of the campus community about gender equity cluster into several main categories ranging from perceptions about the campus work and classroom climate, to diversity issues, and to issues of physical and emotional safety. The following is a brief summary and description of some of the major concerns voiced by women and men.
The largest cluster of concerns for women at Colorado State centered around the campus climate. Women are aware that their natural style of work, communication and creativity are not always in line with the overarching culture which is in place at Colorado State. Negative stereotypes and attitudes present on campus often remind women of this fact. Women feel as if they must transform their natural style and conform to the dominant norm in order to be recognized and respected for their work. This creates a level of discomfort for women which varies depending upon their position at the University, their department, college, level of social support, and any individual differences in style.
Students also raise issues about the classroom environment. Specifically, they comment on the failure of some instructors to use gender inclusive language. They note that women’s and other diverse perspectives are often ignored in courses. They feel that male and female students are sometimes evaluated differently, and question the adequacy of advising for women students. They note the limited number of women role models, and question whether the men and women in athletic programs are being treated equitably. Women of color encounter prejudice both as women and as people of under represented races.
A second area of concern for women on campus has to do with employment. These concerns vary depending upon the type of position a woman has at the University (regular faculty, temporary faculty, administrative professional, state classified, graduate student, or undergraduate student), but in general all women are concerned about gender equity in the work environment. Women are concerned about equity of pay, and equal opportunities for professional advancement and development. Specifically, women are aware that there are often different standards placed on the work of women and men. They feel that many policies on campus espouse gender equity, but are no effectively achieving gender equity. There is a perception that sufficient efforts are not being made to hire and retain qualified women. There are few women in leadership positions and women keenly feel the dearth of women mentors and women role modes in the campus community. In addition, the effectiveness of some role models is undermined by their colleagues.
Balancing Family, Work, and School
An extremely important area of concern for women at Colorado State involved the logistic difficulties of balancing work, school, and family. There is a sense that the University does not support parenting or family commitment, particularly for single parents. More specifically, the amount of support that people receive for balancing work and family commitments is contingent upon their department or supervisor and is not due to campus-wide policies. Women feel that the University does not support dependent care, which is usually the role of women. They feel that they must sacrifice family for their job, even though they often do not have support at home which would help them put their jobs first. Concomitantly, perhaps one of the greatest concerns for women with children is the lack of adequate and affordable child care. In particular, there are difficulties finding child care on short term or emergency notice.
Safety and Harassment
For students, safety on campus was a primary concern. Students as well as other groups of women believed that campus lighting and security are not adequate. Another large area of concern for all women on campus has to do with harassment and emotional safety. Many women feel they cannot voice their concerns about the campus climate or issues of gender equity for fear of retaliation. They feel they will be ostracized or labeled as “trouble makers,” and generally will not be supported by the campus environment. Additionally, there are concerns about sexual harassment on campus. Sexual harassment does exist at Colorado State, and there is a perception of powerlessness to change harassment situations because of a lack of support by the campus community.
Many women on campus, and particularly the women of color, non-traditional students, and lesbian and bisexual students note a limited appreciation of diversity on campus. They feel there is an insensitivity to cultural differences. They comment that their individuality is not appreciated and feel that issues of diversity are misrepresented and misunderstood. Specifically, they feel that many people are uninformed about actual issues, that they are seen as being “different,” and are not valued for their diverse perspectives, but are expected to conform.
Communication challenges for men and women
A final area of concern voiced in the focus groups was raised primarily by the men. Men are concerned about what they perceive to be the fundamental differences between men and women in communication and work style. Some men seem genuinely confused by gender issues and desire a forum to work through these perceived differences.
In general, the women at Colorado State seem to value their experience in higher education, but are aware that CSU has room for improvement with regard to gender equity. There is a large body of support for movement toward a more equitable environment. This enthusiasm is tempered by fears that nothing will change. As action alters conditions for women, these fears will subside.