Below are a few UNC- and NC-specific facts that motivated me to join the “Day Without A Woman” general strike on March 8, 2017.
To my UNC students who followed the link in my email here: you’re the next generation to enter the work force. The burden of building truly more equitable spaces — of “leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems,” as UNC’s mission statement puts it — will fall on your shoulders. As a scholar of women’s literature and history, I feel it’s part of my duties as your professor to make clear the situation of the present in the light of the past. It’s my job to encourage you to use the extraordinary privilege of your prestigious education to open your eyes, ears, and hearts to the experiences of others in the world — indeed to not only listen to others, paying lip service to diversity, but to actively work to improve the spaces you inhabit every day. By participating in “A Day Without A Woman,” I intend to model the type of engaged action that I would want you all to take on issues you care about.
Know, then, this is not just me “playing hooky,” as you may be tempted to joke, but a specific action that I’ve decided to take after much thought and research. So enjoy the sunshine and the extra hour or two of free time, but I invite you to please also attend to the facts that motivated this decision, which are:
- In a recent survey, 24.3% of female UNC undergrads report that they have experienced unwanted sexual contact during their time in college. That is nearly 1 out of every 4 women. Only 26% of the women surveyed felt confident that UNC would take action against their assailant.
- Women in North Carolina on average are paid 85 cents for every $1 paid to men. This gap widens for women of color. Black women who hold full-time, year-round jobs are paid 64 cents for every dollar. Latinas are paid 48 cents per dollar. Asian women are paid 78 cents per dollar.
- HB2, the “bathroom bill” of North Carolina, is still the law of the land. This is the case despite the fact that the very idea of transgender “bathroom predators” appears to be a myth. According to a coalition of over 200 national, state, and local organizations that work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, there has to date been no evidence of a rise in sexual violence in any jurisdiction after the adoption of nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people’s right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender.
- Today, only 38.9% of faculty in the School of Arts & Sciences at UNC are women. That number drops to 25.2% in the School of Business. You can explore statistics related to faculty and student diversity here.
- UNC was chartered in 1789, opening its door to white male students in 1795. It took over a century for the university to admit white women. They could only enroll as “residents of Chapel Hill in graduate courses or as upper level transfers.” The first five women to enroll did so in 1897; their names were Mary Shackleford Nee McCrae, Cecye Roanne Dod, Lulie Watkins, Sally Walker Stockard, and Dickie Lee Bryant.
- While white women were first admitted in 1897, it took another 5+ decades — until 1951 — for Black men to be allowed to attend UNC. Even then, they only gained that right after suing in federal court. It would be another 12 years after that — 1963 — until a Black woman enrolled at UNC. Her name is Karen Parker, and her extraordinary diary is now held in special collections.
- It took until 2013 — over a century after women were first admitted as students, and two centuries after the university’s founding — for UNC to appoint its first female leader, Chancellor Carol Folt.
In my office, I have an old typewriter, which I invite you to stop by and see. It was used by a pool of secretaries — women — in the mid-20th century who served UNC by typing up professors’ — mens’ — handwritten notes for publication. I don’t know the names of the women who typed up scholarship for UNC faculty, but the battered keys of the machine testify to their labor.