News Analysis: Report from the President’s Task Force on the Status of Women

12 min read

Daniel Nesbitt ’22

Managing Editor

Note: News analysis begins with a fact-based review of the report as released, together with commentary from sources, and then proceeds with an analysis by the reporter of issues and matters of concern raised by the story that the reporter believes should be considered.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Trinity and to consider the progress on coeducation, President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney established a Task Force on the Status of Women at Trinity in September 2019. At the time of its inception, Berger-Sweeney also issued an open invitation to the Trinity community for participation in the Task Force (TF), which ultimately had twenty-six members.

According to the TF’s website, the group met on four occasions during the fall 2019 semester “to analyze and interpret data provided by the Office of Data Analytics and to formulate a recommendations report, which includes three overarching statements of principle and corresponding recommendations for each issue.” The objective of the TF, per its website, was to investigate the progress made with respect to gender equity at Trinity and to further the goals articulated in the Summit strategic plan. 

The final report and recommendations of the TF were released to the Trinity community on Tuesday, May 12.

The TF sought to “gather and analyze data on many aspects of life at Trinity for faculty, staff, and students.” In addition, the TF examined gender representation in Trinity alumni and governance bodies. In analyzing the relevant data and comparing Trinity data with a standard 25-college peer comparison group and national statistics, the TF formulated three statements of principle and various recommendations to address each principle. The peer data was acquired from an identical, jointly administered survey. The three principles were listed in order of concern to the TF, but the report noted that all three goals in combination are necessary to achieve the gender equity objectives. Each recommendation included a requested date of response for the relevant body/individual. The report also included an appendix containing the data gathered by the TF.

Principle Number One

The first principle states that “There should be fair and equitable salaries, workload, and benefits for faculty and staff and equitable outcomes for students at Trinity College.” To arrive at this principle, the TF primarily examined data relating to Trinity faculty and staff. The TF found that although Trinity’s percentage of female full-time faculty members is close to the median of the peer comparison group, “Trinity has had the lowest percentage of female full professors (32 percent) of any of our 24 peer institutions” (emphasis original). In addition, the TF found that promotion to full professorship, on average, takes longer for females than males. “It appears,” the report reads, “that women are more likely to spend a longer time at the rank of associate professor and not be promoted to full professor at Trinity relative to our peers.” When examining the relationship between gender and faculty outcomes, the TF did not control for other possible contributing factors such as age, marital status, subject area, etc. When asked about other contributing variables, the TF co-chairs, Director of the Women and Gender Resource Action Center Laura Lockwood and Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Sarah Raskin, told the Tripod that “there are a large number of variables that could be considered, likely too many to analyze if they are all considered, as it would likely lead to very small samples in each cell.” “However,” they continued, “we agree that it would be helpful for the college to create a sophisticated model that looks at faculty salary by gender in a more nuanced way and taking other variables into account.”

Based on these and other relevant data, the TF listed eight recommendations relating to the first principle. Of note, the TF recommended that the Office of the Dean of the Faculty “develop strategies to increase the number of female full professors at Trinity College.” Appointments and promotions, however, are in the ambit of the faculty’s Appointment and Promotions Committee to determine, with the Dean of the Faculty retaining some authority in the process. In addition, the TF recommended that the Office of Human Resources “develop cross-divisional mentoring and professional development programs for employees and ensure that female employees have access to these programs, as well as other development opportunities.” “The TF,” Raskin and Lockwood added, “is not implying that female employees do not currently have access to professional development opportunities. This recommendation is intended to highlight the need for more of these programs and making information about these resources more widely accessible.” 

Principle Number Two

The second principle, “Everyone should feel safe in all spaces on Trinity’s campus,” was developed after examining student survey data and campus crime statistics. The student survey data indicated that female students were slightly less satisfied with Trinity social life than males. In addition, the survey data suggested that female students experienced lesser satisfaction than male students with respect to a feeling of security and the administration’s responsiveness to student concerns. An examination of campus crime statistics found that “Trinity had the highest on-campus crime reports of fondling among our peers,” and that the number of reported on-campus rapes was close to the median of the peer group, though the report noted that “sexual assaults remain dramatically underreported in our society as a whole. Though not discussed in the TF’s report, the Tripod reported previously that “limitations in the scope of the Clery Act’s geography may impact the accuracy of potentially reportable [crime] data,” particularly with respect to incidents that affect students studying abroad. Further, none of the data examined by the TF nor its recommendations indicated whether there are particular locations, times, events, etc., for which female students feel less safe.

Six recommendations were issued by the TF to address principle number two. The TF recommended that the yet-to-be-hired Assistant Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/Title IX Coordinator “have a sufficient number of trained deputy Title IX coordinators when needed,” which suggests that Trinity should hire multiple deputy Title IX coordinators. “In the recent past Trinity had three deputy Title IX coordinators who held full-time positions at Trinity: the duties of Deputy were executed in addition to their full-time job,” the TF Co-Chairs told the Tripod. “Our collective thinking on the issue,” they continued, “was to ensure that should the need arise for a Deputy Title IX Coordinator to assist the Title IX Coordinator, that more than one person be available due to the time constraints inherent in full-time work. Given that we are in the process of hiring a new Assistant Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/Title IX Coordinator position, having more than one person for back-up is important in case the workload necessitates delegation of duties.”

In addition, the TF recommended that the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offer recommendations “to foster more inclusive classrooms,” but did not define what constitutes an “inclusive” classroom within the report. TF Co-Chairs Raskin and Lockwood offered clarity on this definition, adding that “A ‘more inclusive classroom’ for women constitutes a classroom environment of respect and equity based on gender, and gender identity… This includes the professor role modeling professional and respectful behavior while addressing language and behavior that is disrespectful or sexist by students, and being quickly responsive to situations of sexual harassment, should they arise.” “It means,” they added, “providing a framework for the content of materials and literature utilized for instruction in the classroom. It means creating a syllabus with a balance of materials authored by varied gender identities to the extent possible and appropriate. It means working towards representation of women faculty across disciplines.”

The final recommendation of the TF under principle number two was to “Charge the general counsel to work with the appropriate administrators and governance bodies to bring our policies up-to-date.” Though the report’s language could be interpreted to suggest that Trinity’s policies are not up-to-date, General Counsel and Secretary of the College Dickens Mathieu assured the Tripod that he “[does] not construe the comments…to imply that Trinity’s policies are out of date.” “Rather,” Mathieu added, “it appears that the Task Force is merely recommending that the college regularly evaluate its policies, to ensure continued compliance with state law.” 

As principle number two relates significantly to Trinity’s Title IX policies, the recommendations of the TF with respect to this principle will likely need to be re-examined and further data acquired in light of the Department of Education’s finalized Title IX guidelines released on May 6, 2020. In an email to the Trinity community following the release of the finalized guidelines, Berger-Sweeney wrote that “While we have been expecting the final rules to be issued for more than a year, we shared the hope of many others that the department would not impose them during a pandemic, as doing so places additional stress on members of our community, and responding to the more than 2,000 pages of new rules and complying with them by the department’s imposed August 14 deadline will require significant focus for many at the college.” In the same vein, the suggested timelines for the TF’s recommendations will likely be altered due to the release of the new guidelines. 

Principle Number Three

The third principle reads, “Trinity College should support inclusive, family-friendly policies.” To arrive at principle number three, the TF relied on gender-based demographic data of Trinity alumni and governance bodies such as the Alumni Association, Board of Trustees, and Board of Fellows. In addition, members of the TF discussed various issues “that they believe would improve a climate of inclusiveness and promote a family-friendly environment.” 

The TF offered nine total recommendations for principle number three but divided the nine recommendations into four primary and five secondary recommendations. The first recommendation reads, “Alumni and campus governance groups should make gender parity in Trinity College leadership a priority. Leadership should mirror the gender balance of the alumni base that it represents.” When asked why the TF included this recommendation despite data in the report showing that the gender representation of the overall alumni base (41 percent female) is very close to that of the Board of Trustees (38 percent female), the TF co-chairs added that “The report does cite the progress made by the Board of Trustees while acknowledging that there are [sic] other leadership and governance groups where there is an opportunity for improvement.”

The second primary recommendation suggests that the College consider “possible naming opportunities to honor women at Trinity” to make the campus environment more inclusive. “Specific locations and details,” according to the TF co-chairs, “have not yet been determined and work is ongoing.” Separately, a secondary recommendation offered by the TF was the subsidization of menstrual products in campus bathrooms. The report did not discuss the financial aspects of this subsidization. The TF co-chairs stated that “The TF did not examine the potential costs of this recommendation. The decision to implement was made by the President’s office.” Similarly, the TF also recommended that the Vice President of Finance “determine appropriate spaces for clean, bright lactation rooms in different areas on campus.”

Timeline Changes Due to COVID-19

With each recommendation, the TF included an approximate time deadline for the relevant bodies/individuals to provide a requested response. The general timeline, though, for action on these recommendations has been altered by COVID-19. In Berger-Sweeney’s original email announcing the establishment of the TF, she wrote that “by January 2020, the task force will make specific recommendations to the entire Trinity community based on its findings. The TF co-chairs told the Tripod that “[The TF’s] discussions are ongoing, as information about COVID-19 and college plans evolve. [The TF] met on May 18 to discuss potential revised timelines.”

News Analysis

 As noted above, the TF consisted of twenty-six women, faculty, students, and staff, excluding the co-chairs of the TF (Berger-Sweeney, Raskin, and the Director of the Women & Gender Resource Action Center Laura Lockwood), the report defines other members as individuals “who attended at least one meeting.” As there was no minimum attendance requirement, it is unclear to what extent various community stakeholders were involved in the TF’s deliberation and discussion. The TF co-chairs remarked that the large number of participants made scheduling very difficult, however, “minutes from each meeting and the final report were shared with all members of the Task Force on multiple occasions allowing an opportunity for input from all stakeholders regardless of their physical attendance at meetings.” 

In formulating principles one and two, the TF relied heavily on data from an enrolled student survey conducted in Mar. 2019. This student survey had a response rate of just 33 percent. Despite the relatively low response rate and sample size, the report included no discussion of the reliability or validity of the survey data, nor any mention of the gender composition of the sample, nor any mention of potential response bias and its effects. Similarly, none of the graphics depicting the survey data provide overall or categorical sample sizes, raising further questions about the data. In addition, the appendix rarely indicated the source of the data shown. 

In response to questions about data construction, Trinity’s Director of Analytics and Strategic Initiatives David Andres ’04 informed the Tripod that “The figures were prepared originally as presentation slides” and that “[they] can amend the printed version with the additional information.” Furthermore, there were no tests of statistical significance for any of the relevant data, meaning any TF recommendations based on survey data could very well be statistically insignificant. “The Task Force did not conduct any tests, rather the Task Force simply examined data provided by various departments,” the TF Co-Chairs told the Tripod. They added, “The report notes the need to collect further data on several items highlighted in the recommendations. 

The TF report draws strong conclusions from the relevant data, but does not adequately address the limitations of the data itself, and occasionally fails to control for other possible confounding factors that contribute to observed gender differences in the data. The report and its guidelines should be revisited with consideration given to more thorough data collection practices.


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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