Saturday, June 23, 2007

burning out the good ones

Thomas, a colleague from my University of Washington days, dropped me a line today wondering if anyone at this blog was going to write about the one year anniversary of UC-Santa Cruz chancellor Denise Denton. Thomas linked me to the Adventures in Science and Ethics blog, which has a nice summary of Dr. Denton's move from UW to UCSC and the controversy that undoubtedly contributed to her suicide.

Unlike the author of that post, I had actually met Dr. Denton a few times; our time at UW overlapped, and although I was in the humanities, I had occasion to hear her speak, and she attended the funeral of a friend of mine, a graduate student doing work in neuroscience and engineering. Sort of ironic, since prior to her untimely death, said friend had been telling me to brace myself for severe culture shock, if I did decide to stay in academia. You see, my friend spent a lot of time experiencing firsthand the gendered bias in science and engineering that Dr. Denton was working to change.

In the years since both of their deaths, I've experienced my fair share of gendered assumptions and biases in academia, and I've discovered that I actually deal better with the blatant issues more than the subtle. Larry Summers making pompous claims about women in math and science is a lot easier to deal with because it's easy to get irate over the blatant stupidity. It's less easy to become irate when people pay you compliments for behaviour you only later realize would not be complimented in a man.

Reading over the story of Denton's life in the months prior to her suicide, it's hard to imagine that the response to her hiring - protests, people throwing things through her windows - would have been the same if Denton had been a man - or at least a straight man.

1 comment:

Emilie Clemmens said...

Thanks for the post, Kelly. I was a graduate student in bioengineering at UW when Dr. Denton was Dean. Though I did not know her well, and I'm sure she had many faults as we all do, she was an inspiration to me by virtue of both her accomplishments and her drive, and because she was simply a force of nature! It is good to be reminded of her sad departure, which gave me pause on many levels.