Alissa Portillo
Staff Writer

This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 — Issue 7, dated March 17, 2022, on the Whittier College campus.

It is no surprise that men in the workplace are embracing most of the employment rates in the United States. According to Statista, “in 2021, the employment rate for men in the United States stood at 63.9 percent. This was an increase from the previous year, when 62.4 percent of men in the U.S. were employed.” I say most because the only positions that may not be dominated by men are those posed as therapists or psychologists, which are generally held by women. As claimed by Zippia : “There are over 198,811 therapists currently employed in the United States. 70.4 percent of all therapists are women, while 24.7 percent are men.” Even with this, however, there is still a gender pay gap. As reported by Payscale: “In 2021, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.” This poses issues for women in the workplace entirely.

With this information, we can assume that women may be avoiding certain fields because these spaces are male-dominated, and, at the same time are receiving a lower wage than men even though they may work harder to achieve as much recognition and equality. Colleen Flaherty from Inside Higher Ed reflects on a study that was conducted and concluded: “We find strong evidence that, on average, women faculty perform more service than male faculty in academia, and that the service differential is driven particularly by participation in internal rather than external service . . .” Salary differentials and little recognition for their work may be the reasons why there is a lack of women in the English Department. This must change; to be specific, there should be more women professors in the English Department at Whittier College.

Let’s take a look at some of the facts regarding the employment of professors in the English Departments in the United States. According to Zippia, “there are over 28,922 English professors currently employed in the United States . . . 44.7 percent of all English professors are women, while 49 percent are men.” Indeed, there is a 4.3 percentile difference between these two groups, and I can’t help but wonder why that is.

I have some reason to believe that, as per usual, men in the workplace can use their authority and masculinity to be able to manage the classroom more effectively by possibly intimidating students. What I mean by this is, when we are engaging in a course that is taught by a male professor, I have witnessed an increase in tension and intimidation in that men will lecture and grade far stricter than women. With my experiences as a student, I have distinguished different grades amongst male and female professors. For instance, I typically see less feedback on papers provided by women professors; even with grading, I see the distinct differences, and I can assume there are plenty more differences. This can lead to an increase in the mansplaining of women regarding indirect feedback on how to effectively maintain a successful course and classroom as a woman professor in academia. Yet again in line with stereotypes, women are belittled within their professions as professors because they are too often seen as easy to manipulate and less intimidating. This can lead to less success rates in the classrooms. An article published by Maria Minor in Forbes states, “in 2019, Amani El-Alayli and her colleagues conducted two studies. In the first study, the team analyzed data from a survey of professors. They concluded that students make more standard work demands and requests for special favors to their female rather than male professors.” This supports the possible assumption that women professors can be taken less seriously in the classroom, which leads male professors to be more intimidating and far more likely to not be taken advantage of.

But, there are far more reasons that this struggle may be occurring. Another big part, I believe, for this shortage of women professors in the English Department is the funding of faculty — specifically at Whittier College.

At Whittier College, there are eight English professors, with six being men and two being women. That means that male professors are dominating the population of the English Department — 75 percent. But, it is important to highlight that the two women professors in this Department help run the Whittier Scholars Program (WSP) and devote most of their time to the Program, which leads to a decrease in the opportunities for the Department’s women professors to provide English or literature classes. That is an even bigger issue. Alumna Yasmin Mendoza acknowledges that this problem is easily recognizable. She stated, “I noticed it immediately. I actually didn’t even have a woman English Professor until my third year, and that was all during the module system. Then, the two I had were coincidentally the two that were no longer there the following year. It’s hard not to notice.” Coming across English professors who are women might be rare because of how long it took for Mendoza to come across a woman professor in the English Department. Mendoza’s experience with this may be the same for other students as well.

She further expressed her thoughts as to why this may be occurring: “Funding is a big part of it. When it comes to hiring, it’s bigger than just the faculty in the English Department. The women happened to not be tenured. Another one retired. It’s just a matter of trying to get consistent funding to make more diverse hires long-term rather than short term.” Here, we gain a new insight into the importance of appropriate funding to maintain and bring in more women and faculty of color, even beyond the English Department, that are here to stay at Whittier permanently, or at least for a longer-term — which is an issue Whittier College continues to face.

Dr. Rehn, who is one of the professors in the English Department and is currently serving as the WSP chair explained the impact this issue has had on her students: “I definitely spend a lot of time in office hours speaking with women, non-cisgender students, and students of color about issues and topics that students tell me they do not feel as comfortable raising with other faculty.” She highlights something here very important: students who identify as women or non-binary, and students of color, feel they cannot communicate with other faculty, which are primarily men, in the English Department. This may be because men faculty members cannot resonate with many students who identify in this way. These students may feel that they cannot approach male faculty members in ways that they can if they were able to communicate with women professors in the Department, or possibly overall, on campus. As stated by Bettinger and Long: “One might worry that certain kinds of female students may be more likely to select women professors due to preferences or interest in a particular discipline. Such sorting may bias studies that simply compare the outcomes of female students who take classes from women versus men.” With this, we can gather a sense of the importance for female students to connect with women professors in the English Department because female students may gravitate more to the career paths of women than men. If this connection to women professors is taken away, what exactly is left for female academia students on campus?

To further illustrate how big of an issue this is, it is important to highlight that there are almost nonexistent courses offered at Whittier College that relate to women and studying women’s literature. Within the English Department, students are typically studying Shakespeare or major British and American writers from centuries ago. What is the major similarity between these courses? These courses are Americanized to lecture primarily on White, male writers. We see no courses offered surrounding women writers, nor literature courses focused on people of color.

Given that Whittier College insists on inclusivity and diversity — not just of the students, but of the faculty as well — I think it is important to recognize that having fewer than two English professors who are women and are people of color contradicts that statement and purpose. Not just this, but it is in the hands and best interest of Whittier College to provide students with faculty in each department that can provide a sense of security and comfort for its students. Instead of having the same male professors lecturing in different courses — although they are appreciated for staying at Whittier thus far — it is time to now improve the Department and bring in more women English professors.

Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus

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