Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 19, 2020

MSE, where are the women speakers?

By JULIA DEVARTI | December 4, 2014

Awhile ago I was talking to a friend of mine who was then on the board of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium (MSE) about why they bring in so few women as speakers. He — note here that he’s a man —  told me there weren’t as many women to invite to speak, which I promptly told him was a dumb excuse. There are plenty of successful women out there, even if there are more men available. Then he argued that women cost more to have at events, citing Hillary Clinton and Oprah, two speakers who obviously would cost a fortune. Anyway, shouldn’t we only pay a woman 77 percent of what we pay a man to speak? Just kidding.

All jokes aside, MSE has a serious problem. Every year they bring in a list of great male speakers, and there’s always one token woman to balance it out. In 2013, the only woman was married to the man who was speaking with her! I mean, come on, seriously? It is important for us as students to be able to hear successful women speak.

But wait, let me take a step back for a second. Why is it important to bring in women to speak? There’s one very simple reason: representation. Yes, women are finally CEOs of companies, best-selling authors, etc. But it means a whole lot less for women to succeed in all of these fields if they aren’t visible to the public, particularly to young girls.

When I was younger, there were certain professions I didn’t even consider, simply because I didn’t think that women could do those things. Part of it is language: policeman, mailman, etc. Another part of it is visibility. When all you’re exposed to is the same image of a certain kind of professional woman, it gets you thinking that there’s nothing else for you. When every kids book you read portrays women as damsels who need rescuing, that enforces the idea that men have to support women, financially and otherwise, and therefore should have jobs of higher status and higher pay. When you only hear great success stories from men, it gets a girl feeling like she can never have that kind of success.

That’s exactly what’s happening here at Hopkins. One of the most popular institutions at this school, MSE, is neglecting to represent women. Young women here are being denied a crucial chance to see role models who look like them, who face similar struggles as them and who could inspire them to careers they hadn’t previously considered.

What MSE does isn’t unique here, though. Look at the administration. Until the hiring of Terry Martinez, President Ronald J. Daniels had made a problematic pattern of hiring almost all white men to lead the University. Where’s the diversity? As a student, I want to feel represented by the administration that runs this campus.

Unfortunately, Hopkins is seriously lacking a conscious and intentional effort to represent the student body’s diversity. While I admire what the administration has done to put in place LGBTQ resources and even establish an LGBTQ Center on campus, I wish those sorts of resources existed for other marginalized groups of students. Where’s the women’s center that administrators have been talking about since I arrived on campus? As far as I can see, we’re no closer to having a women’s center than we are to having an all-women lineup for MSE 2015.

Visibility is important. Safe spaces are absolutely necessary. An administration that reflects the student body is crucial. Women have come so far in so many ways, but there’s still a very long way to go. Come on, Hopkins. Lets hear it for the girls and start representing the 50 percent of the student body currently being neglected.

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