School awards reflect gender imbalance

By Skylar Smith

For the past five years, the prizes awarded to seniors at Closing Ceremonies in June have been skewed towards girls. From 2008 to 2012, the ratio of the total number of female award recipients to male recipients has been approximately five to three. In the categories of academics, arts and citizenship, the ratios of female recipients to male recipients have been approximately two to one.

According to Senior Class Dean Louise Makrauer, this gender imbalance in end-of-year awards poses several questions: “Is it bad that one gender gets more than another? Are we recognizing the right things? Do boys and girls have equal opportunities for contributing to the community?”

While athletic prizes have an approximately equal ratio of female to male recipients, prizes in almost every other category have been given to girls more often than to boys. This trend is especially true for English awards; over the past 14 years, the George Henry Browne English Prize has been awarded to 14 girls and two boys.

“I know that for the citizenship awards, we try to base them on citizenship, not gender,” said Ms. Makrauer, who is on the prize committee along with the senior grade team: Head of School Rebecca Upham, Upper School Director Geoffrey Theobald, and Dean of Students Rory Morton. “Gender balance is something we all strive for,” said Ms. Makrauer.

Cum Laude, which is designated to the twenty-five seniors who, according to faculty, have achieved the highest level of academic rigor (based on their cumulative grade point average and courses) in their grade class, has also depicted this trend. Over the past five years, the ratio of female recipients to male recipients has been three to two.

In an all-school faculty meeting in early October, teachers discussed the gender imbalance of awards in the context of how the experiences of boys and girls differ at BB&N.

“We used the imbalance in the awards as a jumping off point for discussion about comparable experiences of boys and girls at the Upper School, not really a problem in its own right,” said Ms. Makrauer.

According to Mr. Theobald, the meeting evolved into an open-ended discussion about boys and girls in general.

“I’m not even sure what it is that’s at play because [the gender imbalance in awards] is not presented as ‘a problem we have to fix’,” said Mr. Theobald. “Rather than focusing on the awards, the faculty discussion focused on our teaching and how it impacts boys and girls differently, particularly with awards. We are asking ourselves, ‘What is it like to be a boy or a girl at this school?’”

According to Mr. Theobald, there may or may not be a follow-up faculty meeting, and the issue is an ongoing discussion. “Right now, it was sort of an open-ended discussion and people, like with anything, need to muse a little bit, need to ponder and talk more with colleagues.”

Although girls have consistently won more awards than boys, according to Ms. Makrauer, “[giving] awards is one way to measure how well we’re doing but certainly not the only measure. We could look to leadership positions held, involvement in extracurriculars, and many other aspects of school life. And gender balance is not the only thing to think about in our efforts to create a great school.”

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