Thirty-eight of the scheduled speakers at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum this fall are men and just 12 are women, according to the Athenaeum’s website. This tally excludes panel discussions.
The Athenaeum hosts talks four days per week during the semester, attracting “a spectrum of luminaries” across different fields of expertise to CMC, according to its website. During the talks, students listen to speakers and interact with them over lunch or dinner.
Previous semesters’ statistics show that a low proportion of women speakers – in this case, 24 percent – appears to be the norm. In the spring of 2017, only 16 of 57 (28 percent) of speakers were women. Ten of 36 speakers (28 percent) were women in fall 2016, and 17 of 58 (29 percent) in spring 2016. None of the speakers identified as neither man nor woman.
Most speakers are invited by professors and academic departments, according to Athenaeum fellow Wesley Whitaker CM ’18. The rest are solicited through research institutes and clubs. The rest of the Athenaeum’s speakers are either invited for special series, invited by the director of the Athenaeum, or suggested by students.
“We strive to diversify the lineup across ideas, topics [and] experiences,” Athenaeum director Priya Junnar wrote in an email to TSL.
Whitaker said that the speaker’s identity is taken into account, but it is not the main focus of the Athenaeum when scheduling talks.
“We are looking for diversity of topics and experiences, but that doesn’t always boil down neatly into categories that you can check off a box,” he said.
Whitaker said that broader disadvantages women face in their careers are to blame for the disproportionately low number of female speakers this semester.
“There are systemic barriers for women to become leaders in their fields and so when the Ath looks at the thought leaders in different industries, there are necessarily less women than in the overall population,” he said.
Jackie Siegler CM ’19, co-founder and co-director of Power of Women, a club focused on raising awareness on campus about women’s issues, did not believe there’s a lack of qualified women available to speak at the Athenaeum.
“Of course there are enough qualified, interesting women or with different gender identities that could come speak,” she said.
Siegler argued the predominance of male speakers in the Athenaeum’s speaker series limits the diversity of voices that the Athenaeum so cherishes.
“If the norm today is for speakers to be majority men, even if they work in different industries and have different political stances, they have an intrinsic male perspective, which creates a very homogeneous climate for discourse,” she said.
Dina Rosin CM ’20 thinks having female speakers at the Athenaeum provides encouraging role models for women on campus.
“When you see someone like you being successful and accomplished, it makes you believe that you can do that too,” she said.
On the other hand, Gayle Lee CM ’20, vice president of Power for Women, argued that female speakers should not be seen only as representatives of women in their industry.
“If they do bring in a female speaker, there will always be a tendency to ask: ‘What is it like to be a female in this profession?’” she said. “It’s important to go beyond the question of their gender and to value them for their work and what they have brought to their field.”