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III. Faculty Awareness

Smaller classes, seminars, and precepts are among the places at Princeton where students with a variety of backgrounds can come together as equals and respect each other's contributions.

Princeton's size and academic structure facilitate faculty contact with students, but we need to make sure more students have significant faculty contact, and consider models that will make these relationships more intentional. In our previous section on mentoring, we have recommended ways in which faculty can be successful mentors for students; here we add recommendations about other ways in which faculty members can address the concerns we have identified.

Like several of our other recommendations, this will benefit all students, but perhaps especially women on our campus.

Smaller classes, seminars, and precepts are among the places at Princeton where students with a variety of backgrounds can come together as equals and respect each other's contributions. Different social cliques, friendship networks, and extracurricular activities divide students on this campus, and colleagueship in a seminar setting can help bridge these divides. Encouraging this colleagueship and providing opportunities for students to know one another better can be beneficial in many instances.

In our conversations with faculty, we learned about some distinctive features of departments that have earned a reputation for being hospitable to women. Thus there are already good models on campus that we might encourage other departments to follow.

  • We recommend that faculty members encourage talented students to apply for prestigious fellowships or graduate school, communicate to such students that they are exceptional, and encourage them to take leadership in a variety of venues on campus, including classrooms, laboratories, and seminars. All talented students deserve such affirmation, but women in particular respond to it and may indeed even wait for it before taking steps to pursue their ambitions.
  • In terms of postgraduate fellowships, members of the faculty and academic administrators, including residential college deans and directors of studies, have a major effect when they encourage women students to see themselves as potential candidates.
  • Being sure to keep potential women candidates in mind when nominating students for academic prizes, and taking time to make such nominations, can help ensure that both men and women are considered for these awards.
  • We recommend that faculty members try to use gender-neutral standards of evaluation in their courses. 
  • Several faculty members pointed to the value of blind grading as a way to address the effects of stereotypes or other unconscious biases which may impact academic evaluation. If tests and papers are initially graded without knowledge of authorship (especially in large courses) this can compensate for the possibility of differential evaluation by gender. Differential evaluation by gender is well documented in psychological research, although recent work suggests that these findings may not hold for math-related disciplines.
  • In seminars and precepts, faculty and assistants-in-instruction can work to make sure that the more vocal and aggressive students do not dominate discussion. One of our committee members spoke of the value of waiting before calling on students—as he puts it, the "five seconds of silence"—that can facilitate a more substantive discussion of clearly thought-out (and less rash) student comments.
  • A number of faculty members advocated simply calling on students from the course roster to ensure equal participation in discussion.
  • We recommend that faculty members in disciplines where this is appropriate be sensitive to the value of collaborative learning environments; in all disciplines, we recommend that faculty members recognize achievement without focusing heavily on competition among students.
  • Women in some natural science and engineering departments have specifically praised the collaborative learning environments they have encountered there. We heard positive remarks about the egalitarianism of many Princeton laboratories and the prevalence of study groups in challenging courses. This reinforces studies showing that overt competitiveness can degrade the academic performance of women. Although collaboration may be less directly relevant in some other disciplines than it is in the sciences, faculty members can be sensitive to the negative impact of intense direct competition on the performance of women students.