pulling the gender card

I haven’t posted in a little while mostly, because I have been working on a letter to the editor for the Albany Times Union (ATU) .  It all started when I received an email via my RPI alumni distribution list about an editorial the acting vice president for strategic communications and external relations at RPI was submitting.  (See here for the editorial as printed).  Apparently, this RPI employee Allison Newman, was outraged at an article posted by the ATU prompting her to cite RPI’s President Jackson as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science”.  For obvious reasons, this piqued my interest.  So I read the article in question.  I also read the other article Allison Newman referred to that she approved.  Now I was angry.  Once again, someone jumped to conclusions, pulled the gender card, and made it worse for women everywhere.  I wrote my own letter to the editor, but the ATU wouldn’t publish it.  Their website states a preferred 250 word maximum, and the woman I was working with at ATU (Tena Tyler, Senior Editor) kept asking for 200 words or fewer.  Granted, my original submission was almost 800 words, she wouldn’t accept my 379 submission either.  At that point I felt my letter would have become complete conjecture without substance if I reduced it any further, so I post it here now in its full form (with a few embellishments blogging affords me that a newspaper does not):

To the Editor:

I had the fortunate opportunity to have my attention drawn to two of your articles in Friday’s paper.  I am an alumna of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (BS in Computer Engineering), but now live in Annapolis, MD.  Were it not for Allison Newman, Acting Vice President – Strategic Communications and External Relations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I would probably have not noticed the activity on Friday.  Ms. Newman decided to send her editorial to all RPI Alumni via our distribution list before it being posted in your paper.  I thought it important to let the Albany Times Union, Ms. Kristi Barlette (Author of the article in question), and the residents of the capital region know that Ms. Newman does not speak for me.

First of all, I am embarrassed that Ms. Newman would waste her time getting offended by such an innocuous article as “You’re the tops”.  The fact of the matter is, Shirley Ann Jackson consistently makes the news for being among the highest paid university presidents in the United States.  In fact, the only time I hear about RPI in the news down here (only 6 hours away) is an article or radio report on that topic.  Nothing Ms. Kristi Barlette said was incorrect.  She reported the facts and reported them objectively.

Second of all, I fail to understand what, if anything, Ms. Barlette’s article has to do with gender, yet Ms. Newman in her opening paragraph both refers to Mr. Scott Waldman’s article on a cosponsored GE and RPI event to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and science (STEM) and a quote from Time magazine about Ms. Jackson being a role model for women in science.

Side by Side Caricature and Real Photo of Shirley Ann Jackson

Side by Side Caricature and Real Photo of Shirley Ann Jackson

Regarding the cartoon depicting Ms. Jackson on a $1000 bill, what’s so offensive?  Ms. Newman referred to is at “denigrating”.  Now, normally when I see a political caricature, say such as one depicting President Obama, some physical characteristic is exaggerated, such as drawing excessively large ears.  This “caricature” looks exactly like Ms. Jackson.

What would you think if the Press Secretary of the United States ran around writing angry editorials for every caricature of President Obama?  I see it as a sign of weakness and lack of confidence in Ms. Jackson’s abilities.  If Ms. Jackson earns her salary, there should be no need to defend it in this way.  The facts are, Ms. Jackson makes substantially more money than the average University president.  If we’re fighting for women’s and black’s equality, isn’t this something to be celebrated?  Why find this article offensive?

Now on to Mr. Scott Waldman’s article entitled “More girls in science will improve life”.  I found this article to be lacking in facts and full of subjective opinions.  As a female computer engineer (one of the more male dominated engineering fields), I’m offended by Mr. Waldman’s article.  What facts do you have to back up your statement that more girls in science will improve life?  I argue that more intelligent people in science will improve life.  I agree that groups containing people with differing backgrounds tend to be more creative and have better opportunities at solving tough problems, but that does not always logically translate to “get more females”?  And if adding an underrepresented gender to your group is the answer, why do we rarely hear about programs to get more boys interested in nursing and teaching?

Why do large institutions always see the need to have special events for females? To me, this is telling the world that females need more help getting into STEM careers.  They obviously can’t do it on their own.  What about the young boys that are also interested in touring GE and attending other such technology events?  Why are we shutting them out?  Why are we putting those children at a disadvantage?  These events only continue to encourage segregation among genders in STEM and I’m disappointed RPI sponsors them.

I’m proud to be a graduate of RPI.  I will never know for sure if I was admitted due to my strong academic performance in high school or if it was because I was born with female parts.  This is something I have struggled to live with every day in every achievement I make.  But I know this:  I am proud of the education I received at RPI and honored that I got to spend it surrounded by brilliant professors and students.  That is why I went to RPI, not because they made me feel good “as a woman”.

“Knowledge and Thoroughness”.  That is our motto.  That is what should attract all people to STEM and RPI regardless of race or gender.  I encourage you all to remember that motto in your daily life. Take pride in what you do.  THAT will improve life for all humanity.

Laura Szypulski

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Class of 2005
Johns Hopkins University, Class of 2010

I was happy to see others were able to get letters to the editor published expressing their disagreement with Ms. Newman.  Props to you Robert M. Chase (letter here) and John Neun (letter here).  You are not alone!

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