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ED 044 095 

HE 001 836 




Francis, Barbara 

The Status of Women at Cornell. 

Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y. 





EDRS Price MF-$0. 25 HC-$0.40 

Admission (School) , *Discriminatory Attitudes 
(Social) , ^Females, Financial Support, ^Higher 
Education, Social Discrimination, Women Professors 
♦Cornell University 


The purpose of this report is to point out some of 
the discriminatory policies and attitudes which "tend to make the 
Cornell environment a difficult place for young women to achieve the 
personal and intellectual maturity necessary for lifelong active 
participation in today's society." The report opens with an excerpt 
from a paper by a Junior describing her campus experiences, which 
include strong criticisms of student, faculty, and institutional 
attitudes toward women. The report then details discriminatory 
practices in admissions policies, financial aid and housing. It 
suggests the provision of day-care centers, the need for sex 
education and a change in university clinic policy, a change in 
counseling practices, and the need for exposure to more female 
faculty members and women in positions of responsibility in 
administration to help change conventional stereotypes and 
expectations. (AF) 


The Status of Women at Cornell 

qs Cornell claims the distinction of being one of the first universities to 

q permit women as well as men the luxury of a good education. The past century of 
,-j. unequal admissions opportunities for women at Cornell, however, is easily over- 
looked by those who would boast progressive policies. Prejudice on the basis of 
sex is so inherent a part of our social system that it frequently goes unrecognized 
C3 as a form of discrimination. 


LsJ The Cornell environment is perpetuating the limited cultural stereotypes 

of femininity typical of that found on T.V. commercials and magazine advertisements 
instead of promoting an atmosphere in which a young woman can define herself in 
terms independent of her sex role. The following description of her personal 
campus experiences, written by a Cornell junior, perhaps best speaks to this 

"Four years at Cornell is at best a mind-blowing experience 
and, at worst, a first rate education. So it is not without some 
bitterness and perhaps self-reproach that, as Junior women, we 
reflect upon a regressive freshman year spent in mindless activity 
and a sophomore year pre-occupied with reclaiming our "birth- 
right." We mean to speak dramatically and even, forgive us, with 
exaggerated intensity. For after four years of being tenderly 
cultivated as the intellectual elite of the American high school, 
and almost heroically daring the strict sex quotas of Cornell 
admissions, we regard a campus atmosphere commensurate with our 
demonstrated seriousness to be our due. 

Upon arrival we are hailed as the new herd of "coeds", 
branded with a huge degrading name button so that fraternity men 
may select their dates from a distance, and confronted with a 
dorm-sweety, usually chosen from a sorority, to orient us to a 
female’s life at Cornell. And what an orientation it is: Corri- 

dor dates, fraternity teas where beer flows ankle deep, exhor- 
tation from representatives of Women's Student Government "to 
really rally"; even upperclass women seem to be conspiring to 
engulf us in a system where women are treated as objects to be 
dated, partied, and spirited. 

Admittedly, things quiet down a bit after the first cultural 
shock, but some women never recover from the radical change in 
self-image experienced in the first few weeks. Indeed, the feel- 
ing of constituting a second-rate adjunct of male Cornell is rein- 
forced by most of a woman’s experiences here. 

Inevitably, part of the discrimination against women at 
Cornell is built into the institution itself. We have already 
mentioned discriminatory admissions quotas, but this inequity 
is especially marked in the professionally oriented schools 




which are not considered appropriate for female aspirants: 

Industrial and Labor Relations, Architecture, Engineering. 

Even in the College of Arts and Sciences, where the male/ 
female quota is a relatively high 2/l, women are concentrated 
in the so-called "artsy" majors: English, art history, languages. 

Fields which inspire passivity and quiet scholarship are encouraged. 
The more aggressive, professional or worldly oriented careers 
are tacitly the province of the male. This situation reflects 
the reality of the outside world, yet the tragedy of Cornell’s 
treatment of women is that this bastion of open-mindedness, 
where "any person may find instruction in any study" has failed 
to liberate itself from such prejudices. 

Even the noble lass who retains her spirit and ambition is 
hardly encouraged throughout her stay here. If she encounters 
some problem, she is sent to a counsellor who usually recites 
the university’s panacea for every situation: learn to submit 
to authority better. One dean even threatened a female student 
that some day her hostilities would ruin her marriage. The 
young woman at Cornell is also hard put to find viable role 
models, to observe mature women who have put to use the kind 
of education they are in the process of acquiring. We leave 
a home situation of mothers leading considerably duller lives 
than we have always aspired to, only to arrive at a university 
where most of the women are secretaries. Outside of the pre- 
dominantly female College of Human Ecology, only twenty- eight 
of the 1200 professors are women, and only a few are full 
professors . 

The classroom attitude of male professors and students is 
often the most demoralizing atmosphere to which a women has to 
submit. When displayed by a male, the most bizarre thoughts 
and personality traits are continually accepted with good humor 
as the mark of creativity and spunk. Yet similar behavior 
from a woman elicits doubts about her sanity, character, or 
motives. Eventually learning to restrain any unseemly exub- 
erance, we begin to keep our thoughts private, and then one 
day bemoan the fact that women are not as articulate as their 
male colleagues. 

If the university continnally reinforces this society's 
absurd definition of femininity, it virtually ignores our real 
biological distinction. The medical clinic has no gynecologist, 
has avoided hiring one over the years, and when approached with 
a gynecological problem proclaims self-righteously, "We don't 
consider this sort of thing to be a student problem." The 
policy on prescription of contraceptives is weak and vague, and 
the student must usually depend on a sympathetic doctor or 
illicit acquisition downtown. More often than not, the clinic 
will only provide a paternalistic sermon. 


But sweeping the issue of student's sex lives under the 
rug merely shows the maturity of an ostrich. Whether the clinic 
likes it or not, the sexual liberation of women is very much 
with us, although sometime even the women feel that their 
new-found freedom is a mixed bag. Stories about fraternity 
parties are legion, and even SDS women, companions to the most 
self-proclaimed radicals, often feel like revolutionary con- 
cubines and have recently formed their own organization. 
Authorities say that the awareness of a problem is the first 
step in finding a cure, Cornell women are at last becoming 

It is the purpose of this report to point out some of the discriminatory 
policies and attitudes — both explicit and understood, which tend to make the 
Cornell environment a difficult place for young women to achieve the personal 
and intellectual maturity necessary for life-long active participation, in today's 


The present system of quotas (ranging from 6-1 in ILR, 10-1 in Hotel, 2-1 
in Arts with an overall undergraduate enrollment in the ratio of 3 males to 
each female) is discriminatory and irrational. Such quotas should be eliminated 
and admission should be based on criteria that includes motivation as well as 
SAT’s, high school record and other indicators of ability. There should be an 
increase of female admissions in the professional schools where many more female 
applicants are rejected than admitted. In those schools where there are few 
female applicants (e. g. Engineering) admissions officers should use contacts 
with high school placement officers to encourage more girls to consider applying. 

There should also be a re-examination of policies toward older women who 
return to college or graduate school and who do not at present receive a sympa- 
thetic hearing. Rigid residence requirements and course hours should be made 
more flexible for the woman with a young family. 


In its description of scholarships and prizes open to Arts and Science 
undergraduates, the Cornell catalogue lists awards totalling $5,04? annually to 
be distributed on the basis of sex. Of this amount, women are only eligible to 
receive 15 % or $760 as compared to $4,285 for men. 

Cornell should refuse to allow any more scholarships to be established 
which place limitations on the sex of the recipient. It should also move to 
rectify the current imbalance either by changing the qualifications of existing 
scholarships or providing compensatory funds for women. 



A married woman graduate student is currently forbidden to live in so- 
called "married student housing". This policy particualrly discriminates 
against widows and divorcees with children and foreign students. Although 
appropriate authorities have been informed that this is a clear violation of 
civil rights, no action has been taken to correct the situation. Requirements 
based on financial need rather than sex should be established immediately. 


Until recently sophomore women were required to live in the dorms while 
sophomore men were not. In loco parentis arguments in support of discriminatory 
residence requirements (and house rules) can only be made on the basis of age, 
not sex. To follow the latter course is to reinforce the double standard and 
the notion of woman as "object" or "property". 

We assume that the official policy of allowing pregnant unmarried women 
and married undergraduat e s to retain their university housing and student status 
and financial aid is being fully implemented. 


Serious consideration should also be given to providing day care facilities 
for male and female students as jart of the housing program. Day care facilities 
are clearly needed by all members of the Cornell community — faculty, students 
and employees. Such a service would not only eliminate the economic elitism of 
existing facilities but would significantly reduce attrition rates and turnover 
of students and employees. 


As a university which aspires to provide a setting where "any person may 
find instruction in any study" , Cornell has missed the chance to offer its 
students some of the most "relevant" information any college age men and women 
will need, want, or use. Sex educators throughout the country will vouch for the 
fact that a great deal of ignorance and misinformation concerning contraception 
continues to exist even in this generation's university population. Ithaca 
gynecologists and local counseling agencies will attest to the fact that 
significant enough numbers of unwanted pregnancies occur each semester at Cornell 
to warrant preventive action. 

Unfortuantely, because it is only a minority of the community which actually 
suffers the visible effects of this information-gap, little has been done to 
alleviate the situation. It is the Cornell coed, who endures the dangers and 
fear of an underground abortion over Spring vacation; or has to ask for a 
leave of absence; or completely drops out of school. Her male counterpart 
suffers at beat the fee for the abortion and at worst a hasty wedding. His 
educational career however, is unlikely to be seriously damaged by the accident. 


Information alone is not sufficient for this particular problem. Clinic 
physicians should also feel free to prescribe whatever form of contraception they 
feel is medically advisable for their patients ~ male or female — who request 
it. Any doctor who feels it is against his or her moral principles to do so 
should not have to. However, there should be a gynecologist at the clinic for 
Cornell's more than 3 >000 women students, and students must know at least one 
doctor to whom they can go to at the clinic for contraceptive advice and prescrip- 
tions. (A more detailed discussion of the legal aspects of this problem is 
included in the appendix,) 


Traditional couu& -ling emphasizes women's adaptation to their traditional 
roles in society, all's placement office maintains a "special" bulletin board 

labeled "Opportunities for Women" which describes "Exciting Secretarial Opportun- 
ities" followed by a list of typing school scholarships, with no mention of 
executive training programs except where it is a •uniquely feminine field like 
clothes merchandising. Likewise women are encouraged to resign themselves to the 
low salaries offered to them on the grounds that they cari't- be counted on to 
continue and make a career in the profession. 

Cornell placement has also allowed visiting recruiters to request to see 
only male applicants for positions which women are equally qualified for. This 
is particularly true in the case of recruiters who interview students from pro- 
fessional schools like Hotel Administration. 

The informal counseling of the faculty is an equally important area in which 
Cornell is failing to raise rather than lower the expectations and aspirations 
of its female students. Too many tradition-bound male faculty members are encour- 
aging their women students to r be practical" about their plans for the future, 
advising them to withhold committing themselves to a specific discipline or 
profession until they are sure it will fit in conveniently with a husband and 
children. This "realistic" advice merely eliminates the acceptance of respon- 
sibility of making a lifelong career decision which is like any other step in the 
maturing process. 


Exposure to more female faculty members and women in positions of responsi- 
bility in administration would go a long way toward changing conventional 
stereotypes and expectations. Currently the Cornell coed's role models are 
female Insturetors and Assistant Professors working at lower salaries with less 
chance for promotion or tenure than their male counterparts. 

The Personnel Office reinforces this pattern by giving almost all women who 
apply a typing test (unless they are placed immediately in the kitchens), whether 
or not they have a B. A. or other skills, and offering them positions for which 
they are usually over-qualified. Cornell needs to seriously re-evaluate its 
wage and promotion schedules, with an eye to eliminating current discriminations. 

The curriculum is one of the obvious places in which girls can be exposed 
to "role models" of educated and intelligent women who have led fruitful and 
creative lives by contributing to their society in more ways than raising a 
family or working behind the scene for their husbands. The experimental Spring 
course, CDFR 400, which studied sex differences and the nuclear family, offered 
a radical re-evaluation of sex role stereotypes currently found in sociology, 
psychology, history, and, literature. Such courses could provide invaluable help 
to the student who wants to learn more about her sex and its special problems, 
while seeking to define herself independent of her sex role. 


On this campus, discriminatory incidents occur daily which are taken for 
granted by both the persons who commit them and the women who are subjected to 

A fe ma le doctoral candidate was recently requested to turn in her stack pass 
because she was pregnant and was thereby demonstrating her "lack of motivation 
and commitment to research". 

The wife of a graduate student who arrived first at Cornell was not allowed 
to pick up the keys to her married student apartment because "men alone" could 

A 22-year old female student requested contraceptives from a clinic doctor 
and was asked to disclose hew long she had known the man, whether she planned 
to marry him, and how many others she had had intercourse with. After declining 
to prescribe any form of contraception he referred her to another doctor downtown, 
who charged her for the visit but only gave her a lecture on morals and no 
medical advice except to abstain. 

A female alumna who is a paid member of the New York City Cornell Club is 
forbidden to use the dining room from 12-2:30 weekly; or the second floor bar 
from 12-5 and 6-8:30 p.m. "Bar and Sandwich service" from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 
p.m. is for "Men Only." This "Men Only" policy is all carefully explained 
on page four of the New York Cornell Club Handbook. While some may find this 
worthy of a snicker and a worn quip about the "sanctity" of men's clubs, such 
policies for a co-ed university club not only violate whatever pretensions 
Cornell may have had of calling itself a co-ed university — but more so, it 
violates the civil rights of its own alumnae. 

Cornell has recently witnesssd the formation of a Chapter of N. 0. W. ? the 
National Organization for Women. The response has been overwhelming, and favor- 
able at all levels of the university — students, faculty, employees. Clearly 
something is wrong when so many women are angered enough by their environmental 
conditions to begin an organized assault on the status quo. 

This report has made a number of proposals, which if ignored can only 
continue the costly consequences of confrontation politics, but if implemented, 
could mark the beginning of Cornell's return to progressive leadership in the 
education of women. 

sg: Barbara Francis, grad