Student Work


The Female Student Experience at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1965 - 1980): Uncovering Discriminatory Practices and Identifying Challenges Public

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Past exclusion of women from the student body has driven contemporary efforts to support female students at WPI, but there is a lack of critical understanding of the channels through which female exclusion has occurred historically. Inspired by Dr. Stephan Sturm of WPI, this project uncovered discriminatory mechanisms at the school and documented the experiences of female students between 1965-1980. A qualitative analysis was conducted on data gathered from WPI’s Archives & Special Collections and 41 interviews with WPI alumni, faculty, staff and MIT alumnae. Material and social mechanisms of exclusion at WPI were identified. Across all interviews the most prominent issue female students faced was lack of housing and inadequate infrastructure. Unrenovated restrooms and limited social spaces made the integration of women on campus more difficult. Unfair methods of assessment, limited number of organizations for women, and lack of mentorship on campus stood out as formal social mechanisms of discrimination. These mechanisms put women at a disadvantage when pursuing their academics and interests. Some of the informal social mechanisms discovered include sexist comments, harassment, a sense of not belonging and the heightened pressure to excel. The social mechanisms identified, and the extent to which they were felt, were not universal to all students during the 1965-1980 period. The female experience at MIT shared many characteristics as that at WPI. Despite MIT admitting women over a century prior to WPI, interviewees still endured sexism and feelings of isolation. Women at both universities were often one of the only female students in class and had limited female mentorship within the faculty. However, both groups of women found support among each other and through organizations. These findings promote further discussion of this topic at WPI and provide future teams with resources to examine exclusion of other underrepresented groups.

  • This report represents the work of one or more WPI undergraduate students submitted to the faculty as evidence of completion of a degree requirement. WPI routinely publishes these reports on its website without editorial or peer review.
  • E-project-051321-124451
  • 24346
  • 2021
UN Sustainable Development Goals
Date created
  • 2021-05-13
Resource type
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