When Women Lead: A look at female leadership at APU

By: Zachariah Weaver

In the ‘about APU’ page on the school’s website, Mary A. Hill receives recognition for being the first president of Azusa Pacific University in 1900. Afterward, the achievements of later presidents, starting with Cornelius P. Haggard in 1939, are mentioned, leaving almost forty years of history unrecognized. The first four presidents who led the beginning decade for the first Bible college on the west coast, were all women—Mary Hill, Anna Draper, Bertha P. Dixon, Matilda Atkinson. This was an amazing accomplishment for a woman to do at that time.

But what happened throughout those years? Who were these leaders and why are they not mentioned like later presidents are?

Allison Oster, the public relations manager in the Office of University Relations, realizes the importance of including historical information in every aspect.

“The APU history page is supposed to provide an ‘at a glance’ overview, covering highlights of the university’s history and giving a little more attention to recent milestones,” Oster said. “Unfortunately, not every aspect of our history can be included, but it certainly isn’t excluded for any other reason than that.”

Do women need to have the tag of being “the first woman” applied at each breakthrough, or does highlighting this play a role in perpetuating an unequal tradition between genders? Should female success just be a given? Women have experienced progress, but there is still work to be done.

Today there are eight women in the President’s Council and thirteen men. Two of those women are part of a final decision making team called the Office of the President. There are seven men in that same office, including the current president Jon Wallace and two male vice presidents.

On the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences committee, there are two women in chair positions (including the acting chair) and thirteen men. The other five schools including Business and Management, Behavioral Sciences, Theology, Nursing and Music, include nine female and ten male chairs out of nineteen total.

Cliff Hamlow, the vice president of University Projects in the Alumni office, has been at APU since the 1950s.

“There is not a lot of information on the early presidents for the first forty years but women have always been involved with teaching, ministry, support services and leadership throughout APU’s history,” Hamlow said.

Hamlow’s wife, June, was the Associated Student Body president from 1957-58.

Female Leadership, Present Day

There are documented chapters of this unmentioned history, however, and they come in Ken Otto’s Campus History Series on APU. The narrated photo-documentary gives year-by-year highlights from 1899 to 1939 and on. This historical book can be checked out at the Darling library on west campus and can be purchased at Glendora’s Barnes and Noble.

Deana Porterfield, senior vice president for People and Organizational Development on the President’s Council, acknowledges there could be more gender diversity within the members who make major decisions for the university.

“I think, compared to what I’m aware of in other Christian universities, we have a lot of women represented,” Porterfield said. “Could there be more women represented or a woman in a higher position like a president or a vice president? Absolutely.”

Porterfield feels a need to diversify the current situations between genders.

“To make the best decisions for an institution and to have the best perspective, you have to have a diversified cabinet and leadership team,” Porterfield said. “To me, that’s not in just gender, it’s in ethnic diversity as well.”

Throughout America, there are more women taking important leadership roles. In 2007, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust became the first woman president of Harvard University. A February 2010 presentation, found online at www.syr.edu, given at the University of Washington, St. Louis, says it best.  The speech, titled “Women in the Academy: Reflections on Best Practices for Survival and Successes,” was given by President of Syracuse University in New York Nancy Cantor. Cantor said women are attaining leadership roles in a gradual process. She said that women are the majority and earn 60 percent of the college degrees awarded each year. She also noted that in the past 20 years, the proportion of female presidents at colleges and universities has more than doubled.

Many times, as exemplified by these women, success is used as a leeway to changing the system. As it is said in the movie Elizabethtown, “Success, is the only god the entire world worships.”

Shino Simons, the associate dean of students who directs the Women’s Resource Center, realizes the purpose of dealing with women’s issues.

“We do focus on women’s issues, but we believe that those issues become everyone else’s,” Simons said. “That’s why we want to make sure it’s a holistic thing. The issues women face impact both genders.”

The Women’s Resource Center is not only a place that deals with issues attached to women, but also the issues attached to males.

“We want to make sure the office feels open for men to come forward as well,” Simons said. “These issues, ranging from domestic violence to celebrating the gifts and talents given by God, are not discriminating to genders.

The Future of Female Leadership

Mackenzie Howe, a senior global studies major, describes her observations about women’s issues from her four years at APU.

“I think often times, when women are in leadership, not just at APU but in general, they are an assistant to a male leader or a partner to another leader,” Howe said. “I would love to see female leadership become equal. That’s not to say I don’t want men to be out of leadership roles. I just want to see it become equal.”

Brittany Morton, a junior sociology major and Resident Advisor, wants to see an equal representation without the need to define that it is a male leader or a female leader, a male pastor or a female pastor.

“Whose voice is really being heard when in a group of leaders when the ratio is so unequal?” Morton said. “These are human issues and whether you’re the victim or the victimizer, the issue still affects the entire community. With an equal representation of females in leadership, more holistic views of the campus needs will be met.”

Senior sociology major, Brittan Salisbury, wants to see a need for change in the student body itself and not just within the administration.

“Women, especially Christian women, often have the idea that when a man is present they need to defer or ‘honor’ his leadership simply because he is a man,” Salisbury said. “In our classrooms and leadership groups I want to see the female student body defining themselves as leaders.”

These three women all feel a power of male dominance surrounding the student culture; however, some men also evaluate the situation in reverence to the entire community. This includes a community with a majority female population.

Jordan Gettinger, a junior psychology major, finds that equality is the ultimate goal and that everyone can contribute to the betterment of the school.

“Diversity is the lifeblood of change. I’d like to see a qualified [APU] woman president in the future because a new perspective would be enriching to the university,” Gettinger said.

A Gendered God

Some Christian denominations hold the belief that God is a specific gender, male. This is shown by many Christian beliefs, including the Scottish Episcopal Church, prior to this year. In an article titled “God Goes Gender Neutral” on www.change.org, editor Alex DiBranco wrote about the ‘not so big organization’ that made a claim in September 2010 to call God gender neutral. This adjustment was made after female priests, who became ordained in 1994, asked why they still had to use a patriarchal language in their sermons. They made modifications in response, changing ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ to ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.’ They also replaced ‘mankind’ with ‘world.’

Bethany Grigsby, a biblical studies graduate from APU, would like to see APU one day rework its ideas about God.

“I know APU has a strong history of women in leadership but I still feel like the university’s culture views God as a man, and genders God,” Grigsby said. “I think there is a lot of things we can learn about God when we realize that God is bigger than a gender category.”

Dealing With The Issues

On November 17, 2010, members from an interdisciplinary committee connected to the Women’s Development Committee held an informational with students to discuss the subject of creating a women’s studies minor at APU. If the proposal is approved, students would be able to take courses studying biblical perspectives on women, women’s history and contributions, and theories about women and gender issues. The committee hopes to create a space on campus for students to grapple with gender issues and be encouraged in their leadership and advocacy on behalf of women.

There are, however, various leaders on campus now who embody gender diversity in leadership. Senior journalism major Laura Jane Kenny is the student government association president for the 2010-2011 school year. She feels that seeing women in a higher position helps other women see themselves as able to pursue the same achievement. During Kenny’s years here, there have been no female presidents in APU’s student government.

“We’re at a point that women in leadership is still a surprise,” said Kenny with a weight saturating her last word. “If we are still surprised, then we have room to grow.”

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