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Committee History

The Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women's Leadership at Princeton was formed by President Shirley M. Tilghman in December 2009. There had been lively discussions on campus that fall about disparities between men and women in visible positions of campus leadership. There was also a growing concern that undergraduate women appeared to be winning fewer academic prizes and postgraduate fellowships than men. Moreover, the University had just marked the 40th anniversary of coeducation for undergraduate women at Princeton. Considering all these things together, we decided that it was important to take stock and gain a better understanding of how female and male Princeton undergraduates define and experience achievement and leadership.

It was important to take stock and gain a better understanding of how female and male Princeton undergraduates define and experience achievement and leadership.

In the president's words, included in her charge, we were asked to equip ourselves "to understand how undergraduate students perceive and seize opportunities available to them to assert leadership both inside and outside the classroom," and to suggest some answers to "the critical question of whether women undergraduates are realizing their academic potential and seeking opportunities for leadership at the same rate and in the same manner as their male colleagues."

Our committee included nine faculty members, six undergraduates, and three administrators. We met regularly as a full committee from February 2010 through January 2011. Most of our work was accomplished through subcommittees on the first-year experience, academic and faculty issues, campus life and extracurricular activities, alumni/ae perspectives, and comparisons with other institutions. Since all our data were gathered in calendar year 2010, our findings are up to date through December 31, 2010, but not for the period after that.

Our theme was "leadership," but it soon became clear that leadership on campus can be understood in different ways—and that individual students do indeed understand it differently, with some gender disparities apparent in these interpretations. In our deliberations we used this definition, based on recent work by the chair of the committee: "Leaders define or clarify goals for a group and mobilize the energies of members of the group to accomplish those goals."