I felt like an outsider when I arrived at Davidson merely because I am a woman. The college had begun making a significant effort to hire women, and I was one among an early cohort of new female faculty. Before accepting the job, someone I knew in town told me that ugly rumors were being circulated about me. I was astonished and consulted friends about whether I should take the position. (They recommended I not accept the job.) Instead, I decided the college needed me and needed women.
When I arrived in August, I knew nothing about the many orientation meetings required of new faculty; instead, I spent those first few days before classes began getting settled. My worried department chair learned of my absences and confronted me, asking why I avoided those required meetings. I told him I had no knowledge of them. Within a few days, I realized that someone was taking all my campus mail. (We had open cubby holes then, rather than private mail boxes.) Weeks later, I learned that the person who had been spreading lies about me weeks earlier was the same person who was taking my mail. This man in my department had just retired and was upset that a woman was taking his place and would be teaching “his courses.” He wanted to be sure I failed. Never had I experienced such gender discrimination. My department chair learned of the situation and threatened this man, knowing I could have sued the college for his actions. Instead of doing that, this made me more determined than ever that I would prove myself and do everything in my power to make Davidson an institution that would welcome and celebrate women, both students and faculty. I think I have done so.
Some Davidson women faculty still find it difficult to have their voices heard, and the College should do more to support women’s issues and events such as Women’s History Month (this is celebrated on campuses nationwide). A couple years ago, the female faculty who were seeking approval for a new Gender and Sexuality Studies department encountered more serious questioning about its rigor, direction, and importance than was true of another department seeking approval at the same time.
Certainly, however, the situation for women faculty (and students) is far better at Davidson than it was when I arrived. I, for one, no longer feel like an outsider.