The men’s bathroom by the communication sciences and disorders department in Academic Instructional East is immaculate. The floors are clean and the toilet paper dispenser is full. It might be a coincidence. Or it might have something to do with the fraction of male CSD students compared to female students.
Both the CSD and the computer science programs at Western are dominated by one gender. In the 2015-2016 school year, 185 female students and 47 male students enrolled in CSD 251, the department’s introductory course. Eleven female students enrolled in CSD 598, one of the department’s final courses before graduation, and no males.
Assistant CSD professor Kelli Evans said the graduate program is even more unbalanced than the undergraduate program. Out of about 40 current graduate students, one is male.
“In academia, women are traditionally the underrepresented population, but in our specific field, it’s not that way at all,” Kelli Evans said.
Matt McFarland is part of a unique category — male seniors in CSD.
“I don’t really notice it anymore,” McFarland said. “Obviously, I’ve been in the program for almost two years.”
McFarland believes the disparity comes in part from the field’s connection with medical professions.
“I think that type of thing carries over, because it is focused on service to children particularly,” McFarland said. “It’s a more nurturing type, and I think that’s why you see a lot of women in it.”
He said that the department doesn’t target one gender or the other.
“I’ve had a lot of good female leaders from the industry who I’ve talked to. That’s inspired me in a way to do well in my field.”
Kelli Evans and many other female students have entered the major motivated by interests in medicine and language, she said.
“But the male undergraduates, or even the males in our graduate program, are here for a more focused reason it seems like,” Kelli Evans said. “They’ll [say], ‘I stutter, and so I want to be a speech pathologist.’”
Both professors speculated on reasons for the gender gap.
“That’s what got me interested in it,” Kelli Evans’ husband David Evans said, who is also an assistant professor in the department. “I probably would have done something completely different had I not had that stutter.”
“We, as a profession, have discussed this at open forums at conferences to try to think about that gender disparity,” Kelli Evans said. “It’s hard to know. The profession itself started out as a teaching profession, and I think there’s a traditional gender gap in that kind of profession. It’s also sort of more of a helper profession.”
Many male students, including some in the CSD major, end up in sister fields such as physical or occupational therapy, David Evans said. He thinks one reason for this is that sports injuries are more common than communication disorders, so more people are aware of those related practices.
Kelli Evans believes students aren’t aware of what the major entails.
The field can be divided into an educational category and a medical category, which functions like other forms of therapy, Kelli Evans said.
“I don’t think that is as common knowledge for undergrads, because everyone remembers the kid in third grade who got pulled out of school for their ‘r’s,” Kelli Evans said. “And so that’s what a lot of people perceive a speech pathologist to do.”
On the other side of the spectrum, in a program where males dominate, more action is being taken.
“We are lagging behind the rest of the school, and we are very aware that that’s a problem, and are trying to fix it,” said Aran Clauson, a computer science instructor.
The program faces a mirrored disparity. During the 2015-2016 school year, 200 male students and 83 female students enrolled in Computer Science 101. Computer Science 495, one of the final courses before graduation, was taken by 101 male students and 12 female students.
Communications Facility 405 is an open lab for the computer science program. The room contains a ping pong table in addition to rows of computers.
“It’s not quiet,” Clauson said. “It’s always fun to go down there and see what’s going on, because students are helping each other and solving problems and playing ping pong.”
However, Clauson said there have been problems with the lab. When asked what the biggest obstacle in is, the women in the department said it was the 405 lab, Clauson said. They said the language and attitudes present there are a problem.
“That sort of attitude within the community has changed since we’ve been doing this major orientation,” Clauson said. “There are also more women in the department, and so the men are in 405, getting help, offering help, engaging with everybody else who is here. So I think we’ve actually hit a critical mass of women in the department where women are their peers.”
Katy McClintic is a senior in the program. She agreed change is happening.
“I guess being a woman in computer science is not as hard as everyone thinks it is, but it definitely is different than other majors,” McClintic said. “When I first started in the program four years ago, there were definitely not as many women as there are now, so it’s getting better every day.”
Women can succeed by standing up for their skill levels, McClintic said from her experience working in the computer science field.
“Maybe having more women leaders come in and be examples, because that’s been really important to me,” McClintic said. “I’ve had a lot of good female leaders from the industry who I’ve talked to. That’s inspired me in a way to do well in my field.”