Tuesday, April 8, 2008

All The News That's Fit to Print

A few people who know me know that I often like to set things in motion that end up being a big deal even though I am no longer associated with it. Usually I keep these end results to myself because I tend to think I'm more important than I really am, but when The New York Times gets involved I feel like perhaps it merits a mention.

These past few weeks, see, we've been having a few letters and guest columns that appeared as the result of my column a few weeks ago about women in science. This was written well over a month ago, but it has sparked the longest running dialogue this year in our campus newspaper's editorial pages, including a letter from the dean, a guest column, a letter saying this was an overreaction, and yet another letter from the women's studies center saying it wasn't. The guest column was particularly noteworthy- it was written as a secondary response to my original piece, and detailed an incident in the writer's engineering class where a lecturer showed an image of a topless woman when discussing a new advertising technique.

I won't go into details about the classroom incident because the actual seriousness varies depending on who you ask. (Though I am no longer on speaking terms with the physics major who told me it was an overreaction by stating "It was silly for that girl [who wrote the column] to be upset. She's not attractive at all so no one's looking at her like she's a piece of meat anyway.") Further, this extended dialog happens quite often in university newspapers- it's one of their charms honestly- and when done right the person who had the first say fades out pretty early on. My name stopped getting mention in the third week or so, which I was perfectly okay with to be honest because I have enough else to do than get heavily involved. Only a very narcissistic person would think their initial column should be the focal point several weeks into the future anyway, as this implies your work was too weak to allow the debate to evolve beyond it to the issues themselves.

Then, of course, The New York Times showed up and decided to do an article about the advertising technique from the engineering class, which is a rather silly effort to place bar codes around campus. Because the human element is always nice, sure enough our dialogue and the sexist incident in particular worked its way in there. (And they quoted my friend, the lovely news editor and physics major Ms. Alison Dietz. Yay!) As I've already said, how much this has something to do with me is arguable, as this was not the primary focus of the article, but it amuses me nonetheless that a newspaper of international repute has reported on our campus exchange. A columnist above all likes to get people talking, and I think it's fair to say that I've achieved that.

And as a final postscript to those interested, I have now learned more about sexism at my university than I ever cared to know. The stories are not mine to share so I'm not repeating them here, but any decent person would be upset at some of them and we definitely still have a long way to go on this issue.


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