Women in Computer Science at Swarthmore

Across the United States, the numbers of women in university level Computer Science are declining. However, is this trend visible at Swarthmore College? Moreover, do Swarthmore women perceive there to be a problem with the current treatment of both women in Computer Science and women in science in general?

There is clearly a gender gap in the sciences at Swarthmore College. With the exception of the Biology department, men who are majoring, minoring or concentrating the in the sciences outnumber their female counterparts 2 to 1 in almost every department (see graph, at right). One of the few exceptions to this ratio is the Computer Science program, where male majors, minor and concentrators out number females more than 5 to 1. This statistic is increasingly shocking when we consider the fact that the Swarthmore Computer Science program has one of the largest student populations (ie the sum of majors, minors and concentrators) of any of the science departments, second only to Biology. Moreover, the Computer Science program is growing at an alarming rate. Between the classes of 2001 and 2002, the number of majors, minors and concentrators in the department grew by almost 100 percent. However, out of these 38 new student Computer Scientists, only six were women. This raises the question whether, given the large number of students interested in pursuing Computer Science at Swarthmore, why aren't more of them women?

As part of a study of the viability of a women in science residential program at Swarthmore, the women of Swarthmore College were asked to comment about the need for a campus support mechanism for women scientists. Of the twenty-four respondents, nine women (predominantly from the sciences) expressed the need for women scientists to receive some sort of support. Some of these women detailed personal experiences involving unsupportive or intimidating departments. However, several respondents indicated that they did not feel that female science students at Swarthmore were disadvantaged and need support. Many of these students noted that the myth that women are weaker than men in the sciences would be perpetuated by the presence of a women in science support group mechanism.

What is being done to address the issue of women in science and, more specifically, the issue of women in Computer Science at Swarthmore? Link on over to our proposed Swarthmore Recommendations page to see.