Harvard President Larry Summer’s comment questioning the “intrinsic aptitude” of women in engineering has garnered a reaction from Uni students and teachers alike. Math teacher Elizabeth Jockusch and senior Lauri Feldman both have very unique reactions to the statement. Jockusch disagrees with the emphasis that Summers put on intrinsic aptitude, and Feldman withdrew her Harvard application citing the comments by Summers as her reasoning.
Larry Summers listed three reasons for why women are underrepresented in math and science fields. Summers first said that women were not willing always willing to sacrifice their domestic lives for a career. Second, Summers claimed that women lack “intrinsic aptitude” to excel in these fields. Finally, Summers pointed towards discrimination. Following this list, Summers stated “their importance ranks in exactly the order I just described.” Summers was speaking at a diversity conference, and explicably received a negative response.
This statement shocked many across the country. There has been a wide range of responses, including a recent reaction by Harvard itself. The arts and sciences department at Harvard made a resolution of “lack of confidence” regarding Larry Summers.
Feldman saw Summer’s comments as “malevolent and unfounded”, which in part is why she withdrew her application to Harvard. She wonders what “professional or expert knowledge an economist (Summers) would have regarding the inherent aptitude of women.” Feldman also disagrees with the statement by Summers that women can’t handle high-powered jobs.
“My mother works up to 80 hours per week as an attorney, and never has she lacked the determination to balance a professional and home life. I think I had a great childhood, and the fact that she was working never made me feel neglected,” Feldman said.
Feldman withdrew her application to Harvard this winter, based primarily on the comments by Summers. “Harvard never seemed like an incredibly hospitable place for women,” she said. Feldman felt that not only was Harvard was not a great place for female students, but also for professors. “Statements made by the president trickle down to hiring and the awarding of tenure,” said Feldman.
From another perspective, Uni math teacher Elizabeth Jockusch showed disagreement with Summer’s ordering of the issues. “I think that the fact that he put (intrinsic aptitude) second is a big problem. We can’t point to any differences in aptitude until we get rid of discrimination,” Jockusch said.
Jockusch began college at Swarthmore as a physics major, where she says “there was at most one other girl in my classes.” She continued her studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was amongst a small minority of women at the time. Jockusch said about MIT: “when you are at a university, and you don’t have any other female colleagues, it makes it much more difficult to learn.”
Jockusch agrees that there may be differences in the aptitudes of men and women, but she certainly feels that it would be such a minute difference, that it would play an almost nonexistent role in the representation of women in math and science fields. Feldman and Jockusch both believe that pointing to the aptitudes of women overlooks the factors of discrimination that continue to prevent a larger number of women from succeeding in math and science fields.
DAVID BOYLE, son of law professor and CounterPunch contributor Francis Boyle, is 16 and attends University of Illinois High School in Urbana, Illinois. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org