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For NU women, minority status has downsides

By Samantha Bubar
On April 3, 2012

They are always outnumbered in the classroom. They are quite often the brunt of jokes at Norwich. They are a minority. They're the females at Norwich University.

"I can tell you that I've spent a good number of hours being the brunt of jokes," said junior English major Audrey Seaman, "There's a point where it gets old but it's an easy thing to do when there's a minority, people jump right on it."

Still, Seaman, a 21-year-old from Warrensburg, N.Y. explained that she enjoys being a female here at a predominantly male university.

According to the Norwich University website, women were allowed into the university in 1972, making their life on campus a mere 40 years old, as compared to the near bicentennial of the college's start as a male only school. As of Oct. 15, 2011, there were 556 female undergraduate students and 1,612 male undergraduate students, making females unquestionably outnumbered.

While some females on campus find their minority status empowering, others have a different view. "I have just felt that you are targeted by male students and eyed a lot. The guys at this school, as soon as you walk by, are saying something good or bad about you," said senior communications major Chelsea Copeland, a 23-year-old from Barre, Vt. who is a commuting civilian student.

The male and female dynamic captures a lot of attention and underlies the culture on campus, but there's also some issues with the way females relate to each other. "The friction between females is always there no matter where you are and even though there are hardly any of us here, it is still the same," said Bailey Day, 20, a sophomore history major from Knoxville, Tenn., "You would think that we would all sort of band together but we don't. We just feed into the "rare commodity" agenda of the males by tearing each other down."

Day, a civilian female here at Norwich, explains the "rare commodity" agenda, by saying, "I think that we are objectified more simply because there are hardly any girls here. So, they sort of see us more as rare commodities than people."

Liz Spears, 21, a senior English major from St. Anselmo, Calif., said, "I've never had any qualms with female students here, which is saying a lot, because I don't get along with females." Spears went on to explain that even though she hasn't experienced any friction between herself and other females, that she does have a close group of friends that she can "trust, depend on and know that they will treat [her] like a human being."

Copeland brings yet another viewpoint to the table. She said, "I think the corps females look at the civilian students as being easy and have no self-respect because a lot of girls on campus will sleep around with the guys at this school because they can, that option is open to them, even if it means ruining relationships." Although both civilian and cadet females are permitted to have relationships with the men on campus, the civilian girls are stereotyped to "sleep around" more frequently than cadet females, according to Seaman.

Copeland adds, "I believe that the corps females are respected much more by the corps and civilian students because they hold a certain professionalism about them and are respected for being disciplined more than the civilian girls."

Another factor in the corps versus civilian female divide is 'rookdom'. "I think that the civilians are treated more like females and the corps are treated more like one of the guys, not that they aren't treated like females but I think since they have been through so much, like rookdom and all that jazz, together, that they are more like blood brothers/sisters and the civilians are treated more as the common female," Day explained.

Seaman reflects on her days as a rook and said she was "definitely sheltered from being her true self." As a current 1st Sgt., she talks with her female rooks. "My staff and I talk with the entire company, all the females, every once in awhile. You've got to have a heart-to-heart and talk about the fact that females do get harassed and about those challenges that will arise with a male dominated population," she said.

As a member of the corps, Seaman said of the way females treat each other that, "I think that's where the problem lies with any female in the corps. I think that we're definitely more critical of each other and I think that we are very easy to jump on rumors and other negative things that, say one female does something and it's easily targeted. We're definitely critical."

Rumors are another thing that some females at Norwich find unfortunate. According to Spears, "I'm a topic of the rumor mill from time to time, and yes it makes me angry, but I realize rumors are started by people who don't know a thing about me and it makes me laugh really. Every day here makes me a stronger person, and for that I am grateful."

Seaman also mentioned that "Norwich in general can really take a toll on people. If a female gets hit with one little rumor it's often her reputation for the rest of the time here at Norwich. I've seen that happen many times."

As far as what could change about the added pressure of being female in a predominantly male university, Day said, "I do not think there is much that really can be done at this point. Most of the pressure comes from biology and society in general. I do not think that there is much that anyone could do here to take that pressure off."

Spears offered a suggestion. "I'd like to see females have more respect for themselves. I think that would cut down a lot of the unequal treatment of women on this campus by their male counterparts."

"Ashley," a student who didn't want to be identified, said she felt that "females stick together at this school, probably because there are so few of us. We generally help out other females if needed."

"I mean not all guys are nice. There are the guys who believe that females are the weaker sex and that we belong in the kitchen and what not, but you just have to ignore people like that," Ashley said. "I think males just need to drop the theory that females are the weaker sex, we can do almost everything they can so we shouldn't be made to feel inferior."

There are things that males could do to help lessen the pressure as well. "Men could definitely be more respectful, learn to keep their mouth closed and their eyes where they belong," Copeland stated.

Males on campus aren't the only ones that could help lessen the pressure Copeland explained. Females want to see "more respect from the guys at this school, but that won't happen until girls at this school give them a reason to respect them."

"I think it's cool to be a female here," Seaman said, "In the corps you're definitely challenged, and it's hard to live in a positive light as a female in the corps of cadets, but if you do it, then that's awesome. Otherwise as a female in a military uniform - I'm proud of it."

As challenging as living in a male dominated University may be, there are a few gentlemen that make life a bit more enjoyable, Spears noted, however, "the guys, not all of them, but some of them, need to grow up, and learn how to be gentlemen. And I think the females can cut down on the drama, grow up as well, and learn how to be well-rounded young women," she said.

Seaman had a similar idea about keeping life simple for a Norwich female, "I hate to say it, but a lot of the situations I know about, the girls bring on themselves. Just because there is a very strict eye on the females, one slip here or there, will bring down the heat."

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