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New Women of Hopkins Brings Great Women to the Mattin Center

By Staff Writer Will Kirsch ‘18

· Will Kirsch

On October 18, 2016, the Women of Hopkins exhibit debuted at the Mattin Center. The photo series, organized by a grassroots team of students and faculty, celebrates some of the great women who have passed through Hopkins and their efforts to overcome gender discrimination, which was often perpetrated by the University itself. The “equity team” behind the exhibit, comprised of Professors Dr. Karen Fleming and Dr. Jeff Gray, Director of the Office of Gender Equality Jeannine Heynes, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering doctoral students Anna Coughlan and Dominic Scalise, also put together a series of seminars and workshops discussing the subject. The current exhibition serves as an extension of that series and publicly displays the faces of women who have overcome sexist barriers to achieve greatness.

The Politik reached out to Mr. Scalise, who led the Women of Hopkins project, for an interview regarding the exhibition. When asked about the origins of his interest in the topic, Mr. Scalise said that when he started his graduate program, of the eleven students and postdoctoral candidates that worked at the lab, all eleven were men. Mr. Scalise said that the calculated probability of such a gender breakdown was about a one percent chance.

As a result, Mr. Scalise started attending workshops organized by Doctor Karen Fleming, a biophysicist. Professor Fleming emphasized the barriers that women in the sciences face by discussing research articles such as one by the current Associate Director for Science at the White House, Jo Handelsman. Based on two identical, faux job applications differing only in gender, Dr. Handelsman found that in entry-level positions in the sciences, men were favored over women, with the former being twenty-five percent more likely to be hired.

Mr. Scalise stressed that this brand of discrimination was not limited to just one discipline:  “It’s not just in the sciences, but in male-dominated fields in general,” said Scalise, citing medicine and politics as two others in which women face challenges.

Mr. Scalise began to assist with Dr. Fleming’s workshops, with other members of the current grassroots team also joining eventually. The group invited Dr. Handelsman back to give a talk at the University about her research. According to Mr. Scalise, she encouraged the attendees to use “blank spaces” on campus to celebrate “female pioneers in male dominated fields.” That appeal inspired the current exhibition in the Mattin Center, which received funding from IdeaLab and the Diversity Leadership Council.

Mr. Scalise discussed the choice of the Mattin Center as a space, saying that the group felt it was important to celebrate the honorees publicly. “We tried to put it someplace where you couldn’t help but notice it,” said Scalise. He also said that the Mattin Center’s outward appearance and the fact that it surrounds a main entrance to campus made it a good location for the display.

Originally focusing on the sciences, the equity team looked for accomplished women in male dominated fields, often in social contexts which would have further hindered their success.“We picked out some women that we thought were representative of the University, different historical timelines, and different races and ethnicities and were major pioneers in their field,” said Scalise. Scalise and his fellow team members regretted that they had to narrow down the list and apologized for it, saying that it was impossible to truly represent all the great Women of Hopkins with the limitations of their starting budget. The team hopes that the current exhibition will generate more support for the project and allow them to expand.

The list was narrowed down to twenty-three names, all of which now gaze across the Mattin Center plaza. Mr. Scalise said that there is a possibility the exhibit could expand in the future, perhaps even to a permanent exhibit, and could include women from a number of other fields. The team is also working to bring some of the honorees to campus to talk about their experiences.

The portraits will remain in the Mattin Center for a full year, during which Mr. Scalise hopes they will offer inspiration for the current women of Hopkins. However, he was hesitant to place too much emphasis on the University, due to its inhospitable attitude towards a number of these women during their time at Hopkins.

 

“There’s a lot of cases where women had to push through these barriers but weren’t necessarily welcome in academia. So in that sense we want to honor these women, we want to inspire the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps and keep breaking barriers and we’d like to honor the university in the process, but we don’t want to belittle the barriers they [the honorees] faced at the time,” Scalise explained.

 

Scalise also said that one potential honoree declined to be a part of the exhibit, seemingly in a testament to the University’s historic attitudes. This unnamed woman faced numerous barriers and often found herself at odds with the administration, as well as being opposed to a number of Hopkins’s former policies, which included not admitting female undergrads until 1969.

 

For the next year, students will be encouraged to remember a group of great women that many at the university have sadly forgot. Through the efforts of the Women of Hopkins project, a step has been taken against the gender inequality and erasure that is all too common in academia. The exhibition showcases past success and offers encouragement for women at the university who, even now, face pervasive bias in a world still dominated by men.

The list was narrowed down to twenty-three names, all of which now gaze across the Mattin Center plaza. Mr. Scalise said that there is a possibility the exhibit could expand in the future, perhaps even to a permanent exhibit, and could include women from a number of other fields. The team is also working to bring some of the honorees to campus to talk about their experiences.

The portraits will remain in the Mattin Center for a full year, during which Mr. Scalise hopes they will offer inspiration for the current women of Hopkins. However, he was hesitant to place too much emphasis on the University, due to its inhospitable attitude towards a number of these women during their time at Hopkins.

“There’s a lot of cases where women had to push through these barriers but weren’t necessarily welcome in academia. So in that sense we want to honor these women, we want to inspire the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps and keep breaking barriers and we’d like to honor the university in the process, but we don’t want to belittle the barriers they [the honorees] faced at the time,” Scalise explained.

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