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Men outnumber women in graduate music program

Male students of the graduate music program sitting on the steps of Adams Plaza. (Stephanie Scerra)

Most programs in the Mills College curriculum are characterized by gender imbalance — but it’s usually the women that outnumber the men. In the graduate music program, however, more men than women are currently enrolled.

“It’s been an issue for many years. We’ve been working on it,” said Maggi Payne, a music professor and the Co-director of the Center for Contemporary Music. She is one of two female full-time faculty members in the program.

One year, she said, the electronic music program admitted 19 students, only five of whom were women.

“And they were so good,” Payne said.

According to Payne, the program is making an effort to rectify the gender imbalance. The faculty does extensive advertising and recruiting among female electronic musicians through several organizations, including the International Association for Women in Music (IAWM). Payne also said the program is trying to work with the Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA) to create more scholarships geared towards women.

“It’s pretty much a department-wide feeling that we should promote women in electronic music,” said Center for Contemporary Music Technical Director Les Stuck. He said he believes in using an affirmative action-like approach “until the problem is fixed.”

“We do our best, but again, part of it is the applicant pool,” Payne said, stating that gender imbalance is universal in the electronic music field.

“Traditionally there are more women in performance. In composition it is not the case — there are a lot of guys,” Payne said.

According to second-year MFA student Barton McGuire, it is difficult to attract more women to the program because “every program in the country is trying to attract more women.”

Holly Herndon, a second-year MFA student in the music department, said, “Our society has the same issue with engineering programs or math programs being male-dominated.” Herndon said men may be more likely to be involved in electronic music because they are socially conditioned to be more technically inclined.

“The next generation won’t be intimidated by this new technology because they will grow up with it,” she said.

For Herndon, the fact that Mills is a women’s college was not a “leading factor” in her decision to attend, though she said it did contribute to her choice.

“It really resonated with me that Mills is so supportive of women,” Herndon said. “Electronic music in academia can be intimidating and the environment at Mills has really counteracted that with a supportive and enthusiastic community.”

In Herndon’s electronic music program, there are only three women and about 20 men. Even though there are more men than women in the program, students and faculty in the department say the program remains sensitive to gender issues.

“It is something I’m constantly aware of and have to be sensitive to,” said first-year MFA music student Greg Zifcak.

McGuire also said he remains aware of his status on a mostly women’s campus.

“The fact that this is a women’s college is a big reason some people come here and I didn’t want to intrude on that,” he said.

But according to Herndon, there are some benefits to being outnumbered by men.

“There is almost a hunger for more women to get involved, making it sometimes easier to get shows,” Herndon said. “It’s a good time to be a woman involved in electronic music, thanks to so many women and men before us.”