Posted by: Whitney Ross Manzo, Associate Professor of Political Science; Pre-Law Advisor; Accelerated Law Degree Program Coordinator
An important part of your college search is meeting faculty members and learning about the environment in which you’ll learn. In fact, many faculty members who choose to teach at women’s colleges do so because of their commitment to serving as mentors and role models for their students.
In this blog post, Assistant Professor of Political Science Whitney Ross Manzo describes why she chooses to teach at a women’s college and how her work helps create the next generation of women leaders.
As a political scientist, I find teaching at a women’s college immensely freeing and extremely important. Here are the three main reasons why:
The sad truth is, women are 51% of the US population and only makeup around 25% of its elected officials. There are more women in appointed office and local offices like school boards, but the numbers are nowhere near equal. In fact, there are counties in North Carolina that have NEVER elected a woman to the board of commissioners!
Why do we want more women in office, you might ask? Because research has shown that women in office are more collaborative, more inclusive, and more likely to deliberate carefully. Research I’ve done with David McLennan, also a political science faculty member at Meredith, has demonstrated that women in office are more likely to fund education and health care services. Perhaps most importantly, having women in office inspires other women to run for office, creating a positive cycle.
So, if my goal is to get more women into politics, I can start at the beginning – when young women are just starting to think about careers and what they want to do with their lives – and encourage them to get involved. If I can demonstrate to my students the importance of politics and get them excited about it, then hopefully I can have a positive impact on the number of women who later serve in office at all levels.
Let’s face it – women talk about different things than men. Women have different priorities than men. Related to my first point, research has shown that women in office are much more likely to introduce legislation on “women’s issues” like child care, education, and women’s health. Similarly, students at a women’s college are interested in learning about how public policies affect the issues that matter to them: education, health care, women in prison, women in the military, sexual violence, the list goes on.
I used to teach at a co-ed institution, and often the men in the room would dominate conversation. We know that women tend not to speak up in class when men are present, and recently released research demonstrates that women are less likely to want to lead a group discussion when the group has more men in it. In a women-only classroom, we can have frank and open discussion about the things we care about most. Everyone is welcome to share her opinion, and we have opinions from all over the political spectrum. Female voices are heard and celebrated, rather than silent.
At women’s colleges like Meredith, women undergraduates are able to work with faculty members on research projects. Students can even make an impact on the type of research faculty members pursue. When I came to Meredith, I mostly researched election laws and how they impacted voting. I still have interest in that area, but I found that my students really liked learning about research on women and politics. So my research agenda shifted, and I got a few student workers to assist me with some projects. One was the project I talked about above. Two students built a database of all 100 North Carolina county commissions and their budgets to help us answer the question of how budget priorities might be different between the genders. Another project involved interviewing women who have served on appointed boards in North Carolina to see what motivated them to serve, and why they had never made the jump to elected office. Students got to speak with some very prominent women in the state and learn about their life paths, and I got to better understand some of the barriers women encounter when trying to serve in office.
These are just a couple of examples, but they illustrate how much of my own research depends on the work of my students. Because undergraduate research is so valued at Meredith, I have been able both to show young women how research projects are completed and to grow my own knowledge. In turn, I can use this knowledge in the classroom, which ends up benefiting all of my students.
I strongly believe that teaching at a women’s college has allowed me to become the scholar I want to be. Also, I am proud to have a hand in growing the next generation of strong female leaders. As Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said, “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”
If you choose to attend a women’s college, you’ll be in an educational space that values women’s voices and is in the business of talking and doing.