Women now make up the majority of students in Canadian post-secondary education. But despite their high enrollment numbers, female students continue to deal with unique issues in post-secondary education, such as being underrepresented in STEM programs and higher rates of student debt for women.
This week, Quad-Fi took the time to learn from a series of female students in Ontario.
In the interview below, you will find a woman’s perspective on student and professor behaviours in the classroom, underrepresentation in STEM, and her experience navigating extracurricular activities on campus.
- Which program are you currently enrolled in and do you feel that being a woman has affected you in this program?
I studied Sociology, a program which I found was made up primarily of female students. I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from many female professors who were very passionate about women empowerment. While I mostly had positive experiences in this program and it largely emphasized intersectionality, there are a few incidents that solidified the impact of gender as a personal characteristic.
In one of my classes, a professor asked a question to the class. At first, a girl answered and a moment later a boy answered, essentially repeating the girl’s answer. The professor then pointed out what we had all noticed, and said that speaking in a deeper voice doesn’t make the answer any different. I appreciated this response from the professor because although this situation could have happened with 2 men or 2 women, male privilege does still exist and it is important to teach women to stand up for themselves, and I do know that some guys in the classroom were uncomfortable about this. I also had another experience where a male professor mentioned that not enough females raised their hands and that this bothered him, which honestly made me kind of nervous to raise my hand because it brought so much attention to females. Again, I am very grateful to have been in a program that emphasized the importance of intersectionality, but I do think that there is a lot of learning to be done, both by students in the classroom and the way that professors address gendered issues.
- Do you think there are any areas on campus where women are underrepresented and how do you think that this can be improved?
In terms of programs, I think that majors like engineering and mathematics tend to be largely made up of men. I think that clubs geared at women in STEM, or providing women minorities in the program with a mentor can be really helpful, but that these are only temporary solutions to a very systemic problem. I learned in one class that, in another country, scholarships were given to women in high-school when they pursued a post-secondary degree in engineering, and that this increased the rate of women enrolled in engineering. I definitely think that STEM programs should be promoted to women early on rather than dealt with at the university level, so I think that high-school mentorship programs and action on behalf of guidance counsellors should be encouraged.
In terms of physical areas on campus, I think that the gym can sometimes be intimidating for women because it is generally a male-dominated space, and I think a great solution to this is to create more female-only gym spaces. Again, this is a problem that I also think should be tackled earlier on than at the university level.
- Do you have any experiences with clubs/jobs/organizations on campus and how has being a woman impacted these experiences?
I felt like I was always surrounded by strong and interesting women in all of my extracurricular activities, which made me much more motivated to keep contributing to them. However, I don’t think that any of the clubs I was on had a certain inclusion criteria when it came to women, which could be problematic. Nonetheless, on the clubs I was on, there were always so many empowering females which created a very welcoming atmosphere for me.
I think that female representation is important even if we don’t realize it right at the moment. At one of my meetings for my job on campus, my supervisor spoke about her family and her experiences with maternity leave, and I don’t think I would have had the same experience with a male manager, so I am grateful for that.
Quad-Fi uses a bias-free process that celebrates rather than punishes people for personal characteristics like race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Take a look at our website to learn more about our student loans and refinancing, and remember to take care of yourself as best as you can—be it financially, physically or mentally.