Alumnae

Today’s Female Students Say ‘Thanks’

Forty years after Lehigh began admitting female undergraduates, the scene has changed.

Trina Pal ’11 hugs a fellow graduate at commencement.

Current students and recent graduates express surprise that the campus once featured noontime nude swims for male students, a longtime tradition. They understand but no longer feel the sense early coeds expressed of living under a spotlight.

“Someone had to step up to the plate and take on this difficult challenge that I couldn’t even imagine, being the first women in a class that was predominantly male,” Monique Golden, a rising junior majoring in industrial engineering, says. “Thank you—you don’t go unnoticed.”

Business graduate Meghan Bowen ’11 says she didn’t feel different as a female student. “On a day-to-day basis, you never even think that it wasn’t the norm a few decades ago that women were here,” she says. “A lot of my classes were very evenly mixed, male and female.”

Female students say they never felt they didn’t belong, as early alums sometimes did.

“Lehigh strives a lot to make it a safe place for everyone, for all students,” says Betel Densamo, a rising junior majoring in architecture. “We have a female president and that helps a lot too, because you can see that the school values that. I never felt I wasn’t important because I was female and it used to be an all-male school. I know the school values my presence here.”

Still, remnants of the past remain, such as women’s restrooms that contain men’s restroom fixtures, which don’t go unnoticed by today’s female students.

“With Lehigh having such an active alumni base and people being so proud to be from Lehigh, when I’m around the community, if I’m wearing a Lehigh shirt, often an older gentleman will say to me, ‘I am an alum’ from whatever year,” says Erin Thorn ’11, who earned a bachelor’s degree in social psychology. “It is always active in my mind that there is a reason that 80-year-old women aren’t coming up to me and saying, ‘I was a graduate.’”

“Someone had to step up to the plate and take on this difficult challenge that I couldn’t even imagine, being the first women in a class that was predominantly male,” Monique Golden, a rising junior majoring in industrial engineering, says. “Thank you—you don’t go unnoticed.”

Golden says while she feels Lehigh is very academically accepting of female students, she does see imbalances in the numbers of male and female students enrolled in engineering. Females make up about 23 percent of the student population in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science—higher than the national average but below the 40 percent enrolled in Lehigh as a whole.

Golden, who wants to go to graduate school and be a high school principal, says she doesn’t foresee professional challenges because she is a woman: “As far as intellect and skills, I really don’t think it will be an issue.” Trina Pal ’11, who double majored in behavioral neuroscience and political science and plans to attend medical school to be a doctor, says she does anticipate some challenges, based on what she has heard from other students and professionals.

“I feel like women have to work a little bit harder to make themselves more noticed or do a little bit better,” she says.

Thorn says she is aware that women often make less money than men for the same work, and some of her professors warned her that women still face sexism in the workplace.

“In 2011, there isn’t full equality, but we are still working toward it,” she says.

Female students say their experiences at Lehigh—setting personal goals, developing leadership skills, taking part in extracurricular activities, enjoying a well-rounded education, building relationships, becoming role models, building confidence, and relying on personal responsibility—have well equipped them for the future.

“I feel the world is changing and the way Lehigh has prepared me for that is very appropriate,” says Beth Kert z ’11, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business and economics and starts a marketing job for an industrial manufacturing company this summer.

“Now, we see women doing amazing things all over the world. I don’t feel like it’s impossible. Maybe that is how many of the first women thought, ‘Maybe this is not even possible.’ Now I feel like the sky’s the limit.”

—Amy White