From hardy pioneer mothers and daughters who settled the wilderness, to fearless nurses who tended the Civil War’s wounded inside “Old Main,” to humble farmers and boarders who kept the community alive through Reconstruction and beyond, women have always been part of Auburn history—even when the doors to education were shut.
Auburn women weren’t alone. Throughout Alabama women were denied educational opportunities beyond primary school. Julia Tutwiler sought to change that.
The future education and prison-reform advocate was reared as an intellectual equal in her family and studied in New York and abroad before returning to her Alabama home.
In 1872, as Tutwiler began her advocacy for more education opportunities in Alabama, Isaac Tichenor, president of the newly renamed Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, reported to the board of trustees for the first time that the faculty would like to formally admit female students into their classes.
Local girls had sat in on classes before, but Tichenor advocated for full enrollment. The proposal was met with approval, but not enacted. In 1877, Tichenor proposed female enrollment again, this time for financial reasons. The proposal went nowhere.
By 1891, Tutwiler created more educational options for women, but remained unable to integrate Alabama’s two largest schools. That year, she gave a speech to the Alabama Education Association that was ignored by many, but not by William LeRoy Broun, president of what would in 1899 become the Alabama Polytechnic Institute.
Like Tutwiler, Broun’s own daughter, Katie, was an avid learner who aspired to higher levels of education. At the 1891 board of trustees meeting, Broun successfully persuaded the members to allow women to matriculate, for financial as much as moral purposes.
This was not full “co-education,” Broun said, but that “in a limited way, the privilege be given to young women, who may be qualified, to enjoy the advantages of instruction at Auburn.” Girls who were 18 years or older were granted the opportunity to matriculate as juniors. At the start of 1892, Katie Broun, along with Willie Little and Margaret Teague, became the first to do so.
In June 1892, Tutwiler wrote to A.P.I. saying “it seems too good to be true, that what I wished and hoped for 20 years has finally come to pass.” In the same letter, of which a copy was mailed to the University of Alabama, Tutwiler bemoaned the “obvious injustice that the most stupid boy in Alabama can obtain, at our state university, an education without paying tuition, and the most brilliant girl is debarred from this privilege.” The Alabama board of trustees quickly called on Tutwiler following the developments at Auburn and, in 1893, enacted a similar coed policy. By that time Broun was reporting that, despite earlier apprehension, the decision to matriculate women was a resounding success.
A NEW DAY
The Fight for Equal Educational Opportunities
by Reagan Berg ’20
Before Auburn’s first female students walked the Plains, there was one woman who paved the way.
In the mid 1870s, Julia Tutwiler, co-principal of the Alabama Normal College for Girls at Livingston, fought for equal educational opportunities for women. She petitioned to the Alabama Education Association and the university’s board, originally wanting women’s enrollment at the University of Alabama. It would be Auburn University, then the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, however, to make the first step toward gender equality in the state.
In 1882, William L. Broun became the president and would later oversee the induction of women into the college. His daughter, Katherine Broun, along with two other women, Margaret Teague and Willie Little, took university entrance exams in English, history, Latin and mathematics.
Signaling the start of a momentous wave, the three were admitted in 1892. With pressure from Tutwiler, the University of Alabama enrolled its first women students the next year.
Teague moved from Arkansas to Auburn after her mother’s death to live with her aunt, Mary Teague Holliefield. Little’s father was a businessman and mayor of Auburn. The common trend was their close proximity to the university, and this would stay true for Auburn’s female students throughout the decade. Coeds were often daughters of townspeople and faculty taking the train from Opelika or walking to school.
While women were allowed to attend the university, there were gender-specific restrictions. Leah Rawls Atkins ’58, historian and author of Blossoms Amid the Deep Verdure: A Century of Women at Auburn, 1892-1992, wrote that they were required to “walk directly to class and to leave the campus immediately after call dismissed.” Specifically, to prevent them from loitering or flirting with the cadets.
Although fraternization during school hours was forbidden, “girls had dates whenever they pleased,” usually attending church with a beau or going on “study dates.”
Bringing their two years full circle, graduation day finally came. “Commencement week at Auburn in 1894 was the largest graduation week ever held to that time, and it represented a ‘new departure’ as three women were awarded ‘degrees and all honors,’ ” Atkins wrote. Broun, Little and Teague were awarded their diplomas “amid thunderous applause.”
Broun would continue her education as Alabama’s first female graduate student, also winning a competitive scholarship. She later opened the coeducational Conway Broun Preparatory School.
Like Broun, many women pursued degrees in education. “Since most college educated women planned to work for only a few years, it was not practical to pursue a career which required more training, and many feared pursuing such careers might involve the hostility of peers, family members or professors,” wrote Katrina Blair Van Tassel, author of “Co-eds,” Basketball Players, and Beauty Queens: Women at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, 1892-1941.
Women were also largely excluded during the beginning years of the Glomerata and the Orange and Blue newspaper.
Certain professors believed that men held a distinct superiority and wouldn’t call on coeds in class. This, perhaps, only encouraged them to make better grades and be competitive against their male fellows.
It would remain an ongoing battle against the times to be treated fairly, but progress was being made. “Even the most misogynist students had second thoughts about offending the daughter of a Confederate general who taught physics, or the sister of a fraternity president,” Tassel wrote.
The Agriculture Club, Press Club and Founder’s Club welcomed women without hesitation. Coeds also became progressively involved in athletics. In 1897 four women joined the Cycle Club and in 1899 a woman served as the president of the Tennis Club.
With small advancements and a societal shift, “men of the 1890s and 1900s applauded the ‘beauty of full womanhood’ and believed the presence of women would raise ‘the general culture of the entire college,’ ” Tassel wrote.
A NEW WORLD
The Opening of the 20th Century
by Leah Rawls Atkins ’58
A young woman who graduated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute just after the opening of the 20th century entered a new world, still evolving. Many Auburn women played a role in accelerating those changes; however, their journey to equality, meaningful professional employment and a full civic life were still difficult and remained a long time away, almost a century. Some female college graduates of this period married and established families; others used their Auburn education as a foundation for a career.
Until the turn of the century Auburn enrolled increasing numbers of female students, and they represented a greater percent of students than at the University of Alabama. The number of women enrolled rose to a high of 19 in 1897 and 1898, then declined and held steady at about 10 until lows of five were recorded in 1908 and 1909.
Yet more women at Auburn did not guarantee equal treatment. In the historical section of the 1962 dean of women’s report for the Auburn University Self Study, the slow growth in female enrollment at A.P.I. was blamed on “little, if any recognition in class” that women received “except to have their names called from the roll.” The tradition was “that no woman student was ever called on to participate audibly in classroom work” and that “for many years the attitude of townspeople and college students was one of mere tolerance for coeducation.”
A better explanation for the slow growth of coed enrollment might be found in the lack of a women’s dormitory and the limited selection of majors in areas that could lead to jobs for women. Both these issues were addressed by the college in the early 1920s.
The World War I years were followed by the 1920s. Called the “Jazz Age,” it was a decade of rapid social and economic changes, especially in the lives of women, including Auburn coeds. Silent movies gave way to sound, and music took on a faster beat. Women showed their independence by cutting their hair, shortening their skirts, smoking cigarettes and dancing the Charleston. Some even drank whiskey, but not usually in public.
Auburn cadets, along with all the young men in Montgomery, were totally smitten with Zelda Sayre, who personified the liberated female. Five Auburn football players organized a special society called Zeta Sigma with an initiation that required “a successful pilgrimage to Montgomery and a date with Zelda.” When Zelda married F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1920, she may have broken the hearts of a hundred A.P.I. cadets, but there were a hundred Auburn women who toasted the wedding.
The 1920s was the “Golden Decade of Sport” and reflected the Progressive Era’s belief that exercise for women was “a means of achieving their ‘natural beauty.’ ” A Women’s Athletic Association was organized on campus, and a coed basketball team began playing an intercollegiate schedule. Auburn’s male sportswriters for the Orange and Blue outdid themselves in describing the court play of Margaret “Cutie” Brown, who was “the main cog in the Auburn machine,” along with Annie Creel.
In 1921, API President Spright Dowdell converted Smith Hall into the first women’s dormitory, which housed the first dean of women, Agnes Ellen Harris. She also was a professor of home economics, social director and state home demonstration agent. In the fall of 1922, Auburn’s first sorority, Kappa Delta, was organized with six original initiates, and Auburn’s female enrollment reached 65 in a total enrollment of 1,295.
Maria Rogan Whitson, a native of Talladega, was the first president of the Women’s Student Government Association.
Her 1923 degree in electrical engineering—the first woman in Alabama to earn that degree—attracted several job offers, including prestigious ones from General Electric and Westinghouse. However, she accepted a job with Alabama Power Co. She returned to Auburn to graduate school and received her master’s degree in 1931.
The Roaring Twenties ended with the crash of the New York stock market and the beginning of the Great Depression. A college education was even more difficult for parents to provide, but the enrollment of women on the Auburn campus continued to increase. Federal New Deal programs provided support for construction on campus, including Auburn’s first quad of women’s dorms.
The opening of the new women’s dorms in 1940 was the occasion of great celebration for the coeds—having private bathrooms between two rooms was a great improvement over one shared bath in Smith Hall. The telephone situation, one pay phone per floor, was still as grim as it was in Smith, and both boys and girls complained about the difficulty of making dates.
Living on tight budgets, Auburn coeds had to find ways to entertain themselves without spending money. Smith Hall had “dating parlors,” but they were not at all popular with either the coeds or cadets.
Small house dances or dinner dances crowded fraternity houses. Coeds and their dates swayed to the music of the Auburn Knights or the Collegians. There were three major sets of dances during the year: the Sophomore Hop in late September (called the Opening Dances), which began with a tea dance on Friday afternoon, a Friday night dance, a Saturday morning dance, a Saturday afternoon dance, and the grand affair on Saturday night; the January mid-term Junior Prom dances, which began on Thursday evening and included seven dances during the weekend; and the May Senior Dances, or Final Dances, that began on Friday and included five separate events.
Many coeds commuted from Opelika and used the student center in the basement of Langdon Hall as a gathering place. Luella Botsford Henderson recalled Mrs. Hoyt Jolly, the hostess who presided over the center, as popular, kind and always willing to assist students. There were comfortable sofas, magazines to read and usually a serious bridge game in progress.
Students had their favorite professors, but not all A.P.I. professors were tolerant of coeds. Some frankly refused to teach them, and deans and department heads quietly adjusted girls’ schedules accordingly. Elta Boyd recalled an organic chemistry professor in the early 1930s who “didn’t think girls had any place at Auburn, or much sense either.” Boyd, the only girl in her class, finished second. Ruth Smyth Marrs graduated in the “demanding curriculum of pre-med in 1937,” completed her work in lab technology at the University of Tennessee and spent the next 52 years working in medical technology research.
When Maryline Cauthen Westenhaver entered Auburn in 1925, she was one of the first coeds in architecture. She spent many grueling hours at a drawing board, her 5-foot-3-inch frame stretched over equipment designed for a 6-foot-tall man. Coeds found that full skirts around dangerous equipment could cause problems; when Mildred Sanders Williamson’s skirt got caught in a dynamo and was completely cut off, her professor, Charles Isbell, calmly tied two aprons around her and sent her back to her room.
Auburn coeds had hardly moved into the first quad when World War II began and the women’s dorms were requisitioned for men enrolled in U.S. Army and Navy Special Training Programs. War, volunteer enlistment and the draft reduced the number of male students on campus, and women were moved into fraternity houses. With so many men absent, women began to assume leadership positions on campus.
Shirley Smith became the first female editor of the Plainsman when the male editor was conscripted, and in 1946 Mildred Jean Woodham was the first coed to edit the Glomerata. In 1944 “Tutter” Thrasher became the first woman president of a senior class.
The war and its aftermath changed America. The GI Bill sent thousands of veterans to college and the Loveliest Village exploded with students. Deans were challenged to find teachers to cover all the classes, but professors who returned from the armed services, graduate students and professors’ wives with master’s degrees filled the gap. Auburn coeds found more women behind the lectern. The Auburn student body in the late 1940s and early 1950s included many ex-military families.
Strict rules for coeds and double standards for men and women remained. Dean of Women Katharine Cater arrived in 1946. With a heart of gold, a stern stare and a great sense of humor, which she hid from students, she kept the coeds safe and their boyfriends in line. Coeds disregarded the strict rules at their peril. Women could not wear shorts on campus, were required to don raincoats over their gym suits on their way to P.E. classes or tennis courts, and observed strict early curfews.
Coed wardrobes were the latest fashions, although many were hand-sewn by mothers. Ball gowns for dances were elegant, with skirts so full they were left at home until the eve of the dance because the dorm closets would not hold them. For football games, coeds wore high-heel shoes, smart suits and striking hats, often with feathers. Their dates were in suits and ties. Every coed had a mum pinned to her shoulder with an orange or blue “AU,” the proper accessory for football games.The 1950s was also the decade when API was moving toward becoming Auburn University. Academic offerings were strengthened. President Ralph Draughon, the trustees and deans established the academic course for API, which was approved by the Southern Association and culminated in legislative action. On Jan. 20, 1960, the Alabama Polytechnic Institute became Auburn University.
Many Auburn women, who for some reason were unable to finish college, later returned as wives and mothers to complete their degree requirements for graduation. Some joined their G.I. husbands, passing off babies and children to their husbands between classes. Others who had their education interrupted returned because they were concerned about the possibility of having to support their children in case they became widowed. They needed the insurance of a university degree. In later years, women explained that going back to college was simply the goal of finishing something they had once started.
Draughon enthusiastically supported scientific and technical education for women. During World War II, America used women in technical fields, and in the climate of the Cold War he believed America needed “thousands of technically trained women in almost all fields of activity; we simply aren’t training enough of them.” Draughon was convinced that there were “many jobs women engineers can do as well as men” and that the land-grant colleges “are tooled up to train people” in fields of national health, safety and defense. He could see no sense in denying “women the opportunity to enroll and study in these fields.”
Tracking the success of Auburn women who graduated in journalism and English was easy because their writings were published. For instance, Anne Rivers Siddons, who entered Auburn in 1954, published her first novel, Heartbreak Hotel, in 1976. The story is set on the fictional campus of land-grant college Randolph University, which was much like Auburn in the years of the Civil Rights movement. RU even had a forestry plot. Her next novel, Peachtree Road, was set in Atlanta.
New federal laws brought affirmative action, and female graduates found open doors for employment. Two women, Beverly Bradford Crawford ’71 and Rheta Grimsley Johnson ’75, were coeds who edited the Plainsman and moved on
to careers in journalism. The winter of 1974 brought the “streaker” craze when male and female students dashed across campus completely naked, trying to avoid Dean Cater and the police chief.
Black students gradually increased on campus and enrollment grew rapidly after 1969, when the first black athlete signed a football scholarship. Carolyn Jones, Ruthie Bolton and Vicki Orr were star players on the Auburn women’s basketball team, and black students took leadership roles on campus. Elizabeth Huntley, who worked in Auburn President Bill Muse’s office, now serves as an Auburn trustee. Women’s athletics was nurtured by Jane Moore, who came to Auburn in 1960 and played a significant role in building women’s intramural programs and then competitive sports programs at Auburn. Moore is emblematic of Auburn women: they contribute, excel and reflect the Auburn spirit.
The 1980s and ’90s continued to be decades of change for Auburn women.
Title IX provisions forced the university to change titles of administrative positions, since deans of women and men were no longer legal. James Foy became dean of student affairs and Katharine Cater was dean of student life, a title she preferred over “Student Affairs.”
Social changes with roots in the 1960s became common. Formal dances on campus were replaced by social events with destination sites, and formal dresses were not those full antebellum dresses of an earlier time. Coeds no longer felt obliged to dress sharply for class, and shorts, once required to be hidden under raincoats, became the standard attire for class, a more comfortable selection for Auburn’s warm weather. T-shirts and bulky sweatshirts no Auburn woman would have worn to class earlier could now be seen all over campus, while linen and silk were left in the closet for dressier occasions.
Auburn University finally made a commitment to women’s intercollegiate athletics in the 1970s. Urged on by Title IX provisions, in 1976 the university hired Joanna Davenport as the first full-time women’s athletic director. She was told that at Auburn there would be separate training rooms for male and female athletes. A dressing room in the coliseum was converted to a women’s training room; when Coach Pat Dye became athletic director in 1981, he was comfortable with joint training rooms, and the facilities were combined. Davenport pushed hard for female athletes to be able to eat in Sewell Hall with male scholarship athletes. This was achieved but soon abolished at the coaches’ request because the girls could not assimilate the high-calorie meals served at Sewell, and Davenport made other arrangements.
In the early years the women’s sports program had been supported by the physical education department; after 1976, it was funded by the athletic department. Within nine years the budget grew from $100,000 to more than $1 million. Professors in the physical education department who served as part-time coaches were replaced with full-time professional coaches, top-ranked opponents were scheduled, and facilities expanded. Auburn kept moving toward full NCAA equivalency in the women’s scholarship program for each sport.
By 1977 Auburn women were competing in eight sports: basketball, golf, gymnastics, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. Two-time SEC Champion Sissy Costner and All-American Angela King led the Lady Tigers track team in the 1980s, and the women’s basketball program achieved national prominence under the leadership of Coach Joe Ciampi, winning the SEC in 1989. The outstanding play of African-American coeds Ruthie Bolton, Carolyn Jones and Vicki Orr had much to do with the excellent performance of the Lady Tigers. Jones and Orr were stars on the U.S. Women’s Team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. The women’s golf team won the SEC Championship in 1989.
In 1986, the university established a women’s companion award to the Cliff Hare Award, the highest award a male athlete could receive. Named for world champion water skier Leah Rawls Atkins ’58, the first award was made to Tracie Tips, a diver on the swim team with a 3.58 GPA in pre-medicine. In June 1992, Jane Moore became the first woman to chair the Faculty Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics.
If football is eliminated from the statistics, in 1992 women at Auburn held more athletic scholarships than men. But since Auburn women students do not “walk on” and participate without scholarships (as many men do) the number of women involved in the intercollegiate sports programs has been limited.
As Auburn celebrated the centennial of women’s admission in 1992, women’s grades continued to be somewhat higher than men’s, as they had traditionally been.
In 100 years, tuition had increased from $12 in 1900 to $1,755 for nine months’ tuition in 1992. Coed enrollment was 44 percent of the student body, and in 1992 female faculty was 12.5 percent, a low percentage but still higher than an earlier zero. Women’s enrollment reached across academic disciplines, including veterinary medicine and engineering.
Jan Davis and Kathryn Thornton had flown in space, a woman had served as vice president of extension, and two Auburn women helped the U.S. women’s basketball team win in Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
After a century, the Auburn Spirit remained alive and well among its women students.
The Auburn Woman
She’s come a long way, but Auburn is working to help her crack those final ceilings of glass.
by Suzanne Johnson
More than century ago, the first Auburn Woman—technically, three women students—crossed the creaky wooden floors of the academic buildings at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, located in Auburn. They made up fewer than 1 percent of the student population.
Fast-forward 125 years, and women make up 49 percent of Auburn undergraduates, taking an active leadership role on campus while in college and, in the world beyond, as the 129,140 alumnae who call Auburn University their alma mater.
Take a few moments to enjoy a snapshot of today’s Auburn Woman.
THE STATE OF THE GAP
For the last few decades—especially since Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex—colleges and universities have experienced a growing gender gap, with far more women students applying for enrollment than men. In an ironic reversal of fortunes, male students are now, at some universities, in the growing minority.
According to U.S. Department of Education estimates, in 2017 women will earn 141 college degrees at all levels for every 100 men, translating to a 659,000 college-degree gap nationwide in favor of women. The department estimates the gender disparity to grow over the next decade.
While it’s easy to point at Title IX as a contributor to the initial surge in women college students, changes in society at large regarding women’s roles, national economies that require women to work outside the home, and salary differentials are also factors.
Why are fewer men attending college despite USA Today statistics that show 18-24-year-old males outnumbering females by .8 million in the U.S.? And why does Auburn’s female/male ratio of 49/51 defy the trend of the female majority for public universities, which Forbes magazine says, nationally, is 56/44?
Forbes attributes the overall gap to the high school/college earnings differential, which has narrowed over the past 15 years. “While the benefits from higher education have stabilized, the costs have continued to rise,” said a 2017 Forbes article. “The cost-benefit calculation potential students perform have made them more skeptical of attending college.”
In other words, some fields of work that do not require a four-year college degree pay more than those that do require at least a bachelor’s degree.
Why does Auburn buck the national trend? Because Auburn men and women believe it’s a practical world…
If one removed the highly practical-world Harbert College of Business and the Ginn College of Engineering from the mix, 59 percent of the other 3,893 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees Auburn University awarded in 2016-17 would have gone to women students, which starts looking a lot more like the national averages.
Engineering and business are the largest degree-granting colleges at Auburn, however, and their numbers skew the total. In fact, only four of the university’s schools and college had more male students in Spring 2017: engineering,
at 80 percent male; architecture, design and construction, at 64 percent; business, at 63.8 percent; and forestry and wildlife sciences, at 65.4 percent.
Conversely, the greatest women-majority schools in Spring 2017 were human sciences, at 92 percent women; nursing, at 90 percent; veterinary medicine, at 80.7 percent; and education, at 70 percent.
The STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—are still male-dominated, not just at Auburn but nationwide. And colleges and universities, including Auburn, are actively working to attract more women to those high-growth career fields.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, women hold almost half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, but fewer than 25 percent of STEM jobs. Further, the statistics show that women with STEM degrees are less likely than their male counterparts to actually work in a STEM field, opting instead for jobs in education or health care.
Why? “There are many factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs,” the report said. These include “a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.”
Because interest in and preparation for study in a STEM discipline usually occurs before college, both Auburn’s Office of the Provost and individual schools and colleges offer or host a number of summer programs for high school students in everything from computer and software engineering to robotics. While in school, along with the ability to join a variety of student organizations, women also can participate in gender-specific campus groups and local chapters of national organizations, including Women in Aviation, Auburn’s Collegiate Business Women, Alpha Omega Epsilon engineering and technical sciences sorority and the Society of Women Engineers.
OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What about women already attending Auburn? How involved are they in leadership positions in Auburn’s 477 student organizations (both social and academic)? Women currently serve as SGA president and Student Alumni Board president (see related stories in this issue), as well as sports editor for the Plainsman, and are well represented in academic, cultural, social and special-interest groups across campus, many of which do not have officers.
The university also has a number of programs aimed at cultivating leadership among women students.
Under the assistant provost for women’s initiatives in the Office of Inclusion and Diversity (formerly the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs) lies the Women’s Resource Center, whose wide variety of initiatives include the Young Women Leaders Program, which pairs Auburn women students with junior high school girls from Auburn Junior High and Loachapoka Junior High in a Big Sister/Little Sister program. The Leadership and Advocacy Council is an SGA organization that serves as a voice for women students and helps plan women’s programming.
The Women’s Initiatives program also works with other university areas to promote the advancement of women. The Women’s Philanthropy Board in the College of Human Sciences, the Women’s Leadership Institute in the College of Liberal Arts, the Women’s Studies program in the College of Liberal Arts, the Society for Women in Sciences and Mathematics in COSAM, 100+ Women Strong in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and WINGS in Auburn Athletics work to help women develop leadership skills across a range of disciplines.
THE PANHELLENIC FACTOR
More than 40 percent of Auburn’s women students belong to Panhellenic sororities, which gives them a head-start on successful college and postgraduate careers, says Panhellenic Director Jill Martin.
Auburn is home base for 18 sororities averaging 250 members each. The students represent 41 states, Washington, D.C., and four other countries. They represent every undergraduate college on campus and, with a 3.3 cumulative GPA, scored slightly higher than the all-women GPA of 3.23 in the Spring 2017 semester (the male student GPA average was 2.96).
“Women who join Panhellenic sororities enjoy greater retention rates than women students in general,” Martin says. “They are 5.7 percent more likely to graduate in four years and 7.2 percent more likely to graduate in six years.”
In her 15 years at Auburn, Martin says she sees more career-minded women joining Panhellenic sororities now than when she arrived. “That drive and focus are things they’re coming in with,” she said.
BEYOND THE PLAINS
While Auburn women and women’s initiatives are bringing leadership and inclusion to the Auburn University campus, the challenges facing women outside the university continue. Call it a glass ceiling or a gender pay gap, equal pay for equal work has not yet been realized in the U.S.
In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed by Congress, full-time working women were paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to men. In the ensuing 54 years, the wage gap has closed only 21 cents, with women in 2017 earning 80 cents for each dollar earned by a male counterpart. The gap widens factoring in age, education level, type of work, experience and years in the workforce, and widens further for black and Hispanic women.
Spread over the course of a 40-year career, that 20-cent gap adds up. The National Women’s Law Center estimates that a 20-year-old woman entering the full-time workforce will lose $418,800 over the course of her career and would need to work a decade longer than a man to earn the same amount of money.
Doesn’t that college degree help? Actually, it adds challenges, according to a report by the American Association of University Women: the more a job pays, the greater the gender pay gap. “Wage disparities kick in shortly after college graduation, when women and men should, absent discrimination, be on a level playing field,” their report reads. “One year after graduating college,
women are paid on average only 82 percent of their male counterparts’ wages, and during the next 10 years, women’s wages fall even further behind, inexplicably dropping to only 69 percent of men’s earnings ten years after college.”
That’s a key reason Auburn schools and colleges offer leadership and mentoring programs that provide women students with successful alumnae role models.
In 2013-14, the College of Agriculture marked a first in its 142-year history when the majority of Auburn ag students, at 55 percent, were women. The college established the Successful Women in Agriculture donor program to guide, mentor and support women as they prepared to work in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. They also have career
services and professional development programs to help ag majors, male and female, meet with successful alumni.
Although all Auburn schools and colleges work to engage their alumni at large, Ag is far from alone in supporting its women students and alumnae. The Raymond J. Harbert College of Business houses the Women in Business donor group designed to provide not only financial assistance but leadership and mentoring relationships between successful business alumnae and current students. The college also has a mentorship program that is not gender-specific.
The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering enjoys a successful chapter of the Society of Women Engineers as well as the Alpha Omega Epsilon international engineering and technical sciences sorority, and women play a major leadership and mentorship role in the college’s Auburn Alumni Engineering Council and Young Alumni Council.
THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT…
Calling someone an “Auburn Man” has become the ultimate compliment for both men and women AU graduates, but the “Auburn Woman” deserves her due. Auburn Women have served as astronauts and pilots, engineers and architects, CEOs and scientists, doctors and nurses and veterinarians, researchers and educators and artists.
Now, with more programs aimed at fostering leadership roles for young women as they study and learn at Auburn and then move into the great, wide world, Auburn Women will be well represented when the “glass ceiling” once and finally breaks.
It All Comes Back to the Creed
by Jaqueline Keck ’17, SGA President
Twenty-five years from now, when Auburn University celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Auburn Women, I hope that students and alumnae everywhere will look back and see 2017 as the year that unified and empowered all members of the Auburn Family to be their best and do well.
My desire is that we can stand together to make this year be the one that we commit to seeing each member of our family for their work ethic, skill set, character, and support our women in shattering misconceptions that have long weighed them down.
But to be able to look back and understand the significance that 2017 will hold, we must ask ourselves in this moment—why change in the first place? Why seek to step into places and positions that have yet to be filled by another woman? Why aren’t things good enough the way they are?
The answer to these questions is that change is good, and also inevitable. It can create new, exciting progress, a kind of progress the world has never seen before. But for this progress to happen, change has to happen and that change comes with a lot of firsts.
For women, this means that we are going to have to boldly take the first steps onto ground that has not previously been walked on by women. We need to fill positions that have never before been filled by women—carrying a spirit of encouragement with us along the way.
In doing this, we are saying that things are not good enough and there is a need for change. We live in an ever-changing, fast-paced world that always wants new. Progress cannot be attained without having women at the table.
As we move toward this change, I find us standing at an in-between time of seeing women in leadership roles as the exception instead of seeing them as an expectation.
The boldest and bravest throughout history, women and men, carried the light into the unknown so others could follow. It is that kind of bravery and boldness that we need to create change and make the jump from exception to expectation.
Complacency, idleness and aversion to change will get us nowhere. We are at a time where we are ready to set those things aside and commit to change and progress.
HOW DO WE BECOME AN EXPECTATION, NOT AN EXCEPTION?
Focus on qualifications and attributes rather than gender. Growing up, my parents always focused on my performance and how I could become better. Never was capability questioned because I was a girl, but rather, I was faced with refinement because of the high expectation and belief my parents had in me. I was raised on the belief that “whatever you want to do, do it, and do it well.”
I believe there is an intrinsic value in recognition being merit-based. Shifting praise towards hard work allows not only women—but all people—to rise to the challenges in front of them, knowing that there are no social barriers standing between them and success.
Through seeking the praise of hard work, we open up the doors for people who take pride in their work, can bring a vision to fruition and be inclusive of those who contribute to those things. This creates hope for those who have to overcome.
This battle for equality can seem like an uphill struggle if one is
going at it alone. Thankfully, our generation has women who have gone before us and who can share their experience, inspiring others along the way.
Seeking guidance and mentorship is an invaluable step toward women in the workplace becoming the expectation. Mentors can serve as a safe place to bring the daily struggles that inhibit you from moving forward, hold you to a higher
standard by believing in your capability to achieve what is in front of you, and to bring you consistency and speak truth when you need it most.
But just as much as we need mentorship, we need to give it to others—we all have two hands, so we should be helping two people. As one experiences both sides of this coin, the door is opened to learning about others. As you are mentored, your eyes are opened to new perspectives and ideas you had yet to previously think about. As you mentor someone, you learn a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses, both refining you to be the best version of yourself.
HOW DOES THE EXPECTATION LOOK?
The mission statement of Auburn’s first paragraph reads:
The university’s mission is defined by its land-grant traditions of service and access, the university will serve the citizens of the state through research and outreach programs and prepare Alabamians to respond successfully to the challenges of a global economy.
Each of those things mentioned are things that Auburn Men and Women embody and are capable of doing because of Auburn University. Here, Auburn serves as a unifier of all to promote practical training, research and education amongst all people, and women play a large part in bringing that mission statement to life.
For us to work well globally and respond successfully, we as a university have to continue to foster a spirit of collaboration. In doing so, we give our students the opportunity to work with others who are different than they are, and that is the key.
As we continue to produce students who are capable of working well with others and have a heart for service, we are sending out leaders into the world who value differences because, from their experiences, those differences result in success. This means women at the table.
We have to know how to work with and produce men and women that are thoughtful leaders, intellectuals and hard workers.
It all comes back to the creed—education, hard work, “sound mind, sound body”—all those things produce women and men that are ready to engage in a global economy. To successfully do that, we must have women at the forefront that are capable of creating changing and living out the commitment Auburn University has made through its mission.