By Sarina Trangle
When Jacqueline van Gorkom returned from her sabbatical as an astronomy professor at Columbia University a few summers ago, she discovered that while she was away, not a single female candidate had been admitted into the physics and astronomy department’s graduate program.
From then on, she became committed to sitting on Columbia selection committees.
That’s what she told the dozens gathered at Horace Mann on Saturday for a TEDx conference focused on women.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, hosted its annual discussion on women with one of its trademark fast-paced, multi-disciplinary talks in Washington D.C. It invited communities across the world to host independent symposiums mimicking the central talk called TEDx conferences.
The Horace Mann Women’s Issues Club organized the school’s TEDx conference as 500 other groups convened at TEDx talks across the world to discuss the “the space between theme,” which explores women’s nuanced perspectives and women’s various roles worldwide.
“Most people are slightly biased, not because they’re bad, but because they lack imagination,” Ms. van Gorkom said.
She explained how when she first joined selection committees 20 years ago, only one woman was admitted to the astronomy and physics program every five years and that now the incoming class of graduate students is 30 percent female.
“When the committees are composed of only men, they cannot believe women can do what they wish to find someone to do,” she said.
Between speeches from four women, Horace Mann attendees tuned in to an online stream of the main conference. The crowd laughed, gasped and cried as Jessica Pabón, a New York University graduate student, discussed her research on women graffiti artists; Gaby Pacheco detailed the “trail of dreams” march for immigration reform she led from Miami to Washington D.C.; and Angela Patton recalled helping young girls in her Camp Diva move their annual father-daughter dance to a jail so an incarcerated dad could participate.