At the Students vs. Faculty Jeopardy Event, sponsored by C.A.U.S.E. on Nov. 14, members of the Mount Holyoke News team participated in a light-hearted round of questions with another student team and a group of male professors. At the end of the game, the Final Jeopardy category flashed on the screen, reading “Great American Women.” At this point, one of the male professors leaned forward into the microphone and commented, “Well, that should be easy, there are only two of them.” The remark immediately silenced the room; the audience and the players looked around to see if the professor was joking or apologetic. He was not.
This unfortunate event is a reminder that even at Mount Holyoke, a college dedicated to celebrating and promoting female leadership, the seeds of sexism in our culture remain deeply embedded. Whether or not the professor meant any offense, his comment reveals an attitude towards women and achievement that is all too familiar. Despite enormous strides made in recent history by female leaders in every facet of American society, when it comes time to assign recognition, women are often deemed unworthy.
As members of the news team sat and discussed this event, each of us offered our own personal list of great women who have inspired and emboldened us to strive to be great. Many of the names on our lists were professors at Mount Holyoke, and Lynn Pasquerella’s name came up more than once. That is why, although we suppose the comment was meant to be flippant, it is particularly hurtful not only to Mount Holyoke students, but to our president and the many exceptional women who teach and administer at our college. They may not be famous, but they are certainly great.
This incident reminds us why we came to Mount Holyoke in the first place. We chose Mount Holyoke to be bold, to actively seek leadership because we know that it is our responsibility to continue the work begun by previous generations of great women. The fact remains that inequality in the workforce is still rampant in America, and at Mount Holyoke we prepare to take on that inequality, and to be fierce and assertive. No matter how entrenched certain attitudes towards women may be, they are no match for the firestorm of passion and intelligence that Mount Holyoke imbues its students with.
As we move on from this event, we invite our fellow students to think about the great women who have influenced you, and to thank the great women in your life. The first step in creating positive attitudes towards female achievement is for women to acknowledge and celebrate each other.