We welcome to the Bok Blog a new contributor: Anna G. is a junior at Harvard who teaches one section and also serves as assistant head-TF for CS-51. This semester, she’ll contribute a series of posts in which she reflects on issues facing undergraduate TFs.
I was having dinner with two other female computer science TF’s and the issue of gender in SEAS classes came up. One of my dinner companions has a female freshman student who is nervous about being in a very male dominated course and would like to be in a section with other girls and have a female lab TF. I am currently responsible for sectioning over 200 students for Computer Science 51 and this issue has also come up in our staff meetings.
Given that the staff is mostly male, we can’t guarantee a female lab/section leader. I’m not even sure we should be trying; in this discipline, the male-female ratio is very skewed and the faster one starts getting used to it, the better. But should we be trying to balance our sections? Some have suggested having all female sections, but that is not the solution. While it can be unpleasant to be the only girl in a section, the three of us agreed that being in an all female section in a clearly male dominated course would make us feel separated from the class and like we were given special treatment, which would make us feel strange and bring up the question of why exactly we needed special treatment in the first place. I wonder whether it makes sense to strive for a several-or-none gender balance: every section has either no girls or a few girls, but never just one.
I’ve gone back and forth on this and I don’t see a solution. While the gender ratio in introductory Computer Science courses is increasingly more balanced, the gender ratio remains extremely unbalanced in upper level Computer Science courses — I am the only female in my graduate Computer Science course this semester and that has been the case for quite a few of my recent Computer Science and Math courses.
I’m a junior studying Computer Science and Math — I’ve gotten used to it at this point, but how can we make the ramp gentler for freshman girls interested in studying these types of subjects?