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Purdue News

Students and faculty protest after Purdue President asks ‘where are all the men?’

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Purdue students and faculty gathered Friday to protest President Daniels' open letter (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Last week, Purdue President Mitch Daniels released his annual open letter. In it, he warned of the “looming national problem” of gender disparity on college campuses and asked “where are all the men?”

On Friday, a group of more than 100 students and faculty marched across campus to protest the president's letter, saying that it undercut efforts to bring more women into STEM-focused fields like those emphasized at Purdue.

Angie Zhang, a Purdue senior and president of the Purdue Society of Women Engineers, organized the event.

“A lot of us took it really offensive because all of the progress that we’ve had for pushing for more equity in STEM felt negated by the statements that were put out there,” she said.

Thendral Kamal is a freshman in engineering at Purdue. She said she hopes the event sends a clear message to young women considering a career in STEM.

“Growing up I never had as many women engineer role models to look up to,” she said. “We hope that when other students see this horde of people marching down it inspires them to step up and be the future women engineers and scientists of tomorrow.”

Priya Desarazu is a senior studying industrial engineering at Purdue.

“We need to keep encouraging more women to pursue STEM,” she said. “We’re still underrepresented.”

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Purdue students Thendral Kamal and Priya Desarazu (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Alice Pawley is a Professor in the School of Engineering Education. She said college attendance rates for men are declining, but Daniels’ letter made that a problem for Purdue women.

“It’s not because women are taking spaces away from them [men] - it’s because they are opting out. And the reasons that women have not had the same opportunities is because people kept them out,” she said. “While there are a lot of people working really hard to increase the number of women in engineering he seemed fine to throw them under the bus.”

Pawley also underlined that the letter completely ignored members of the LGBTQ community on campus.

“I have nonbinary students,” she said. “It’s not just that it was blaming the efforts of thinking about women in engineering as the reason that men are somehow deciding not the go to college, it’s also about all the folks that don’t identify as men. It’s not just women. There are a lot more people than that.”

Daniels’ letter noted that Purdue still had a university with 57% male enrollment among its undergraduate population, “even as other universities saw that share drop to the low 40s or even lower.” The letter also underlined the 26% female enrollment in engineering programs as “one of the nation’s highest.”

An open letter responding to Daniels from women faculty in engineering at Purdue pushed back on the president’s framing, noting that the 26% female enrollment in engineering was just above the national average (24%) and well below numbers posted by MIT (46%), CalTech (43%), and Stanford (40%).

Organizers of Friday’s event say they aren’t looking for an apology from Daniels, but they would like to see an acknowledgment of longstanding efforts to bring more women into STEM fields on campus.