Examining the Deerfield “Gender Issue”
The year 2009 marked the twentieth anniversary of the return to coeducation at Deerfield, and with this milestone, Head of School Margarita Curtis believes, “this is a great time to reflect on what has been accomplished and what needs to be done in terms of gender issues.”
Last year Ms. Curtis was approached by Hillary Hoyt ’09 and Elizabeth Schieffelin ’09, who explored the gender dynamic for an independent study project. They expressed both their concerns and their hopes for the future experiences of Deerfield students.
Ms. Curtis took this matter to the Board of Trustees to further explore the issue, where a panel of students spoke about their experiences, both positive and negative, related to these gender issues.
From there, Ms. Curtis and the Board established a gender committee co-chaired by Health Issues and Anatomy teacher Kristin Loftus and Athletic Director Chip Davis.
Ms. Loftus and Mr. Davis held meetings throughout the fall with other members of the committee: physics teacher Rich Calhoun, history teacher Timothy McVaugh, English teacher Karinne Heise, and English teacher Matt Langione.
The committee came up with a three-part plan, the first step involving the entire student body taking a survey. Following this survey were both individual dorm and co-gender group discussions. In the spring, the committee will share the results of these studies with the larger community.
There is still a debate over how significant the gender issue actually is, or if it even exists. “Deerfield’s results from the 2009 ISGP (Independent School Gender Project) survey indicated both genders, in general, find comfort, equity and respect at Deerfield,” said Ms. Loftus, “There were two specific areas of inequity, though, particularly from the 12th grade girl data, regarding athletics and social power. Our committee’s work, so far, has revealed progress in these specific areas.”
Ms. Loftus pointed out that even though the committee will be able to negotiate with the administration, “the students will need to take responsibility for social change where they see necessary.”
Hayley Lawless ’10 noted that “in the past, it appeared as if Deerfield was a boys’ club, with girls on the outside trying to get in, but now it’s not that bad. The social dynamic has improved drastically.”
Other students agree with this statement. Shaye Horn ’10 said, “It’s actually pretty balanced around here on the student level, whether it appears that way or not.”
“Though there are issues on both sides of the discussions,” commented Ms. Loftus, “for the most part, I think the senior class is pretty supportive of each other.”
“Sometimes talk of the whole ‘tradition’ thing makes it worse,” said Lawless. “It gives the guys a sense of entitlement, but in general, there isn’t much of a problem.”
Ms. Curtis summed up the general sentiment. “It’s not about reprimanding boys or girls; it’s about raising awareness, and making sure both boys and girls feel empowered and valued here.”