US Department of Education opens Title IX investigation into UC Berkeley resources for females in STEM

Sam Albillo/Staff

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The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating UC Berkeley, along with several other high-profile universities, including UCLA, that offer STEM resources, camps and scholarships geared toward girls and women and their potential noncompliance with Title IX laws.

Title IX bans any sex discrimination in education, including discrimination against males. The U.S. Department of Education is particularly investigating UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering summer program for middle schoolers, “Girls in Engineering,” due to a complaint filed earlier this year alleging that the program unfairly offers females opportunities that it does not offer to males, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. UC Berkeley disagrees with this allegation, as the program, while titled to attract girls, is open to students of all genders, according to Gilmore.

“We have not changed the title of the program because doing so would likely result in a disproportionately low number of girls in the program,” Gilmore said in an email. “A key goal of the summer program is to help address the pipeline issue of drawing more girls and women into engineering.”

Females make up about 29 percent of all UC Berkeley College of Engineering undergraduate and graduate students, according to Gilmore. This statistic echoes a national trend within the field. As of 2017, women earned only 21.3 percent of total undergraduate engineering degrees across the country, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

In addition to studying economics and computer science, campus junior Lillian Ohara also serves as the publicity officer for the campus Association of Women in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, or AWE. She said while the club includes both male and female members, its ability to cater to females is especially valuable.

“The point of AWE is to include women and not make them feel like they’ve been put aside and give them a community,” Ohara said. “You don’t have to interview for it. You don’t submit an app. You don’t have to pay money. It is really inclusive.”

Campus sophomore and molecular and cell biology major Pirooz Fereydouni serves as the alumni chair and internal chair for Sigma Mu Delta, a pre-med fraternity made up of all male members.

Fereydouni said because Sigma Mu Delta receives funding from the University of California, during recruitment, he and his brothers cannot advertise their fraternity as an all-male organization due to Title IX laws.

In combination with the resources his professional fraternity offers, the STEM scholarships publicized on the UC application portal were enough for Fereydouni to feel that there was “adequate opportunity” given to him as a male in STEM, despite some scholarships and clubs catering to females.

“(STEM and coding) are highly underrepresented spaces (for females),” Fereydouni said. “Some think it’s marginalization but I think it’s necessary for these opportunities to exist.”

Rachel Barber is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.