For years, Provost Patrick Prendergast’s words on gender equality in Trinity have often rung hollow. This is hardly a shock: it’s tough to sound sincere when the upper echelons of Trinity are still mostly grey, middle-aged men.
But the conversation is showing signs of maturing. The launch of the new Systemic Action for Gender Equality (SAGE) charter, which sets out 12 goals for promoting gender equality in universities and was spearheaded by Trinity academics, indicates a welcome – and warranted – change of tone.
At the launch of the charter on Wednesday, Provost Patrick Prendergast and Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor both complimented the progress that universities have made in improving conditions and opportunities for female academics. Their speeches, however, demonstrated a noticeable lack of back-slapping, and were surprisingly introspective.
Prendergast highlighted Trinity’s shortcomings, noting that College hadn’t performed “as well as we would like” in the Athena Swan awards, and warning that the College must remain vigilant in the face of discrimination against women.
Mitchell O’Connor spoke at length about the myriad of policies she has been pushing to improve women’s lot in universities, but also expressed serious concerns about the scourge of sexual assault on college campuses, admitting that the government was “failing” students in tackling this issue. Like Prendergast, she stressed how important it was that universities stay on their toes.
Prendergast’s humility at the launch was a welcome surprise from a man who hasn’t exactly made himself known as an advocate for gender equality – indeed, the vast majority of appointees to his recently formed council of advisers are men.
It is heartening that Trinity is at the forefront of initiatives such as the SAGE charter, but perhaps even more heartening is that gender equality appears to no longer be another box for colleges and the government to tick.
A cynic will say that we shouldn’t pin our hopes on charters or the tone of speeches. But for those familiar with the glacial pace at which attitudes change in Trinity, the launch was indicative of how far the conversation surrounding gender equality in higher education has come.