Times have certainly changed for women going to college. A glance through an old yearbook shows that female students at the University of Hawaiʻi in the 1920s and 30s, were mostly majoring in education, home economics or similar subjects deemed proper for women at the time.

In the 1940s and 50s, campus beauty pageants were all the rage. Needless to say, change came slowly. Amy Agbayani, director of the Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity program, started going to UH Mānoa in the 60s.

“We were underrepresented as undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and administrators, but we didn’t know it. We weren’t really aware of it. We were just trying so hard to graduate and keep up with the rest of the class. I was frequently the only female in some classes.”

Agbayani went on to get her master’s and PhD in political science and was one of the co-founders of the UH Mānoa Commission on the Status of Women 40 years ago. Reorganized in 1986 to include all 10 campuses, the UH Commission on the Status of Women works to raise consciousness on issues like childcare, pay equity, domestic violence prevention, campus safety and promotion and tenure.

“All my mentors at the time were white male faculty members in political science. So I’m very grateful for getting their support and everything, but as a female graduate student, we didn’t really have any role models.”

The 70s brought about major change, thanks to legislation named after a UH alumna, the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, more commonly known as Title IX.

“We have come from, not having athletic programs for women, to having Title IX and ensuring gender equity in athletics,” explains Kelly Oaks, UH Hilo’s Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and a current commission member. “We have come from not having as many women in leadership positions to having a president of our system who is a woman to having, in the past, chancellors of our campus institutions who are women. We have moved and evolved toward increasing the representation of women in all fields.”

However the work of the commission is far from over. There are still fewer tenure-track women than men, and women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. The UH Board of Regents has been recently criticized for being mostly men.

Michael Hodges, an IT specialist for the UH System, joined the commission to better understand the challenges faced by his daughters. He agrees with the notion that there is still work to be done, and probably always will be.

“We need to continue to focus on women and to help them flourish and to remove as many obstacles as possible. I think biologically, women tend to end up with the children, which is harder than if you don’t have children when you’re trying to make your way forward in the world. There will always be a need to help women, to help families moving forward. I don’t think that will ever diminish. It just should get easier and easier over time for women and families to be successful.”

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Imagine that. Women ʻstartingʻ to be acknowledged as capable thinkers and equals in the year 2013. Wow. Thatʻs just a wee bit shameful.
    What is harmful and one reason why it is still not ʻequalʻ is the pervading undertone by males (yes, usually white but not always) that we are being tolerated because it is the politically correct thing to do. Or worse yet, patronized.

    My father abruptly rejected my pleas when I was offered an Art Scholarship at Catholic University because as he said, females are supposed to be secretaries. My father? What was his profession? A JAG Officer at the Pentagon and attorney in Hawaii for 30 years.

    Now, I wish I could have not been discouraged and taken advantage of not only the Art career but Law. Unheard of!!! He also made it abundantly clear that women are incompetent lawyers.
    We need to push this agenda even harder. Young women today have no idea how important this is and it is not their fault; how could they possibly know what it was like back then. And to look back and sadly think… if only I could have done that.

  2. If the system is 65% male and 35% female we would have a problem. But since it is 65% female and 35% male the only problem is female professor rates, not equality in the student representation.

    1. Not sure where you are getting your numbers from, Joe. The gender breakdown of fulltime students at all ten UH campuses is Men 45.4% Women 54.6% (http://hawaii.edu/about/) so yes, women students are certainly on better footing, but when you start looking at it by discipline there are a lot of fields, especially in the sciences or STEM, where men are are still disproportionally the majority.

  3. That is somewhat of a problem too when focus on the core issue is passed over with numbers. which in reality mean nothing.
    It is an attitude problem. A deep rooted one. Simple.

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