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Mind the gap

Uneven gender distribution in our classrooms

Despite progress made in the educational realm, data from the academic enrollment office shows that in many Greenhills classrooms there is an uneven distribution between the number of boys and girls.The issue likely stems from inherent biases we all hold. 

“Some of it comes from broader socialization,” assistant director of diversity Kelly Williams said. “Girls aren’t really socialized towards STEM subjects, but boys are. For example, we have to have initiatives for girls, but not for boys.”  

Female participation in the sciences is on an increasingly upward trajectory, especially at Greenhills, however the fields of biology, chemistry, and physics are historically male dominated. 

“It’s something I noticed since I was a college student,” Advanced Physics teacher Alvaro Salcedo said. “Physics is skewed toward men and has been for so many years. The other teachers and I are well aware of this and we try to promote physics for all students, but sometimes our efforts do not yield any results.” 

Preconceived notions about what is challenging versus what is easy likely influences students, whether they know it or not.

“Biology is the study of life, it can be seen as the “nurturing” science,” Advanced Biology teacher Julie Smith said. “Sometimes biology is perceived as easy, it’s not as mathy. A lot of society has internalized that this means that more girls can succeed in the field.”
Significantly less female students participate in advanced physics compared to advanced biology, but the reason for this puzzles teachers. 

“Regular physics is totally evenly split, girls in regular physics do as well, if not better, then many boys. It doesn’t make sense why more of them don’t continue with the higher levels.” Salcedo said. 

Students may choose not to continue with certain subjects for reasons completely unrelated to academic performance. In order to learn effectively it is crucial to have a classroom environment where you can engage with the material and those around you. 

“I can definitely feel the difference in being one of the only girls in both jazz and physics,” Ridhi Gupta ‘24 said. “It feels harder to interact and be comfortable with people I don’t normally talk to when it comes time for labs and group work. I don’t want to ask them for help because I do not feel that there is room to make mistakes.” 

Despite teachers’ efforts, there is a culture among students that can make others feel hesitant of their place in the classroom. 

“I think that other girls are deterred from these classes because no one wants to purposefully put themselves in an environment where they are often ignored and dismissed by their peers,” Gupta said. “My first year or so in jazz was miserable, but now there are a couple younger girls and the environment is much better. No one is worried about being the only one or afraid of having moments where they are excluded for no reason at all. We are creating a much better foundation for the girls who are coming up.” 

Having tangible role models to look up to could lead students to feel less hesitant in trying new subjects and enrolling in the subjects which they are interested in. 

“People are drawn to places they can see themselves,” Smith said. “If we don’t see ourselves in the places we want to go, another hurdle is created for us to jump before we even dip our toes into the field.” 

Of all the students enrolled in ceramics 70 percent identify as female and 30 percent identify as male. All the visual arts teachers are female. In contrast, all the physics teachers are male. 78 percent of students in physics identify as male and 21 percent identify as female. In advanced biology, all the teachers are female. 75 percent of students enrolled in the class identify as female while 25 percent identify as male. 

The competitive nature of the school also creates subliminal messaging towards students about what they should and should not do. 

“The idea of how I can show that I’m the best feeds into the disparities, as a society we’ve socialized boys to be hyper competitive,” director of diversity Nadine Hall said. “Boys could feel that they have an obligation to participate in areas that are thought of as more challenging.” 

There is no lack of encouragement towards students’ participation in different subjects, but there is an underlying cultural stigma that influences our decisions. Certain people in certain areas are the cultural norm.

“What we know and what we’ve learned from the world around us influences what we think,” said chemistry teacher Reeti Katouch-Rouse. “Here at Greenhills there are significantly less hurdles for students, but we must remain conscious of the influence of our society.” 

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