From the Editor: Gender Equity in Higher Education

This issue of Diversity & Democracy extends the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U’s) longstanding commitment to addressing gender-based inequities in higher education, which began in the early 1970s with efforts to support women in higher education following the passage of Title IX. Building on this legacy, AAC&U’s editorial staff is infusing questions of gender equity across the association’s periodicals—for example, in this issue of Diversity & Democracy, in a recent issue of Peer Review on Gender Equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and in individual articles across AAC&U’s publications.

AAC&U’s longstanding interest in advancing gender equity is one intersectional element of the association’s overarching commitment to equity and inclusive excellence—a commitment we are advancing with heightened energy during 2015, the association’s Centennial Year. Through publications like America’s Unmet Promise: The Imperative for Equity in Higher Education—which focuses on deep divisions in opportunity and outcomes by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status—AAC&U offers tools to prompt campus discussions about “equity as a framework for higher education reform” (Witham et al. 2015, 1). This issue of Diversity & Democracy is part of a growing portfolio of publications that prompt higher education stakeholders to examine how inequity continues to manifest in various and intersecting ways on campuses, and to imagine higher education as a critical leader in advancing equity in society.

This issue arrives at a time when questions of gender equity—and of higher education’s role in advancing it—remain both contentious and complex. As Susan Albertine points out in these pages, higher proportions of young women than young men now hold baccalaureate degrees. Yet those women’s successes are not mirrored in all disciplines, at the highest faculty ranks, or within higher education leadership, and they do not always extend into the workforce or civic life. Intersecting aspects of women’s identities complicate the challenges women face on their educational and professional pathways: for example, as Alma Clayton-Pedersen reports in this issue, women of color in the STEM disciplines face a notorious “double bind” due to race and gender. Critically, as explored in these pages by Adriana di Bartolo, the very concept of gender has gained nuance and fluidity over recent decades, with important implications for transgender, gender nonconforming, and cisgender students, faculty, and staff. Many institutions are struggling to improve their climates for learning as sexual assault remains in the national news. Women’s colleges—once oases for students largely excluded from higher education—are reconsidering their missions and futures, one by one.

While this issue of Diversity & Democracy addresses all of the above and more, it leaves unexplored many topics that are nonetheless critically important to the project of advancing gender equity in higher education. Several of these topics have been addressed in other AAC&U publications over the years (see, for example, the archives of AAC&U’s newsletter On Campus with Women, published from 1971 to 2013, at www.ocww.org). They include the barriers to educational attainment for young men of color (Williams and Flores-Ragade 2010), the challenges facing parenting students (Peden 2014), and a wide variety of persistent gender-inflected inequities that affect educational outcomes, employment within higher education, and lifelong prospects across race, socioeconomic status, and other categories of difference.

While it is impossible to take a comprehensive look at gender equity in higher education within a single issue of a single publication, this issue’s authors raise key questions worth considering. What is the status of gender equity in higher education? How are the ways that gender is understood and discussed shifting? And what can higher education do to better address persistent gender-based inequities, both within and beyond its walls? This issue prompts readers to consider the implications of these questions within their own contexts, and to imagine a world where gender is but one aspect of identity to be celebrated rather than one of many factors that proscribe opportunity.

Kathryn Peltier Campbell
Editor, Diversity & Democracy

References

Peden, Wilson. 2014. “Strategies for Student-Parent Success at the University of Alabama.” AAC&U News, May. http://www.aacu.org/aacu_news/AACUNews14/may14/feature.cfm.

Williams, Ronald, and Adriana Flores-Ragade. 2010. “The Educational Crisis Facing Young Men of Color.” Diversity & Democracy 13 (3): 10–12.

Witham, Keith, Lindsey E. Malcom-Piqueux, Alicia C. Dowd, and Estela Mara Bensimon. 2015. America’s Unmet Promise: The Imperative for Equity in Higher Education. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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