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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sharon Rose Powell, June 20, 1989. Interview L-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reactions of UNC professors to the influx of women students

Powell discusses some of the various reactions professors at the University of North Carolina had to the influx of women students during the mid-1960s. She vividly recalls one professor who thwarted her efforts to ask questions and suggested that Powell "get [her] MRS degree and get out of this school!" Nevertheless, Powell remembers that most of her professors were much more supportive of women students, holding them to high standards and encouraging them to excel in academics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sharon Rose Powell, June 20, 1989. Interview L-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAMELA DEAN:
While you were talking about you're advisor, it reminded me of the story you told me earlier about a professor and the MRS degree. I wanted to be sure to get that one on tape, and we almost forgot it.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Oh, that's right. You're absolutely right.
PAMELA DEAN:
Sort of the other side of
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
The flip side. My freshman year, I was taking a French class, and the professor, he spoke fluent French obviously, and he spoke so quickly that I sometimes would miss parts of what he was saying. So I would raise my hand. I was the only girl in the class, and I would raise my hand and ask him to please repeat whatever he was saying or I would ask questions if he was raising a topic, I would ask questions about it. I think he just became so exasperated with me. He hadn't been teaching there very long, and I don't think he had been teaching very many women. He took the French book, and I was in the back of the room, and he took it, and he threw it at me. It came very close to hitting me, and he yelled at me, he said, "Sharon Rose, why don't you get your MRS degree and get out of this school!" And that attitude was actually, I don't know how widespread it was, but I'd heard it on more than one occasion, that the women who were coming there were there for one reason only. Get that degree and leave us men to our important work, so that was something I didn't forget. But I have to say, in all honesty, that the majority of professors were really quite responsive, I think, to women's needs, although I do remember, I think his name was Dr. Dixon in the Art History Department. Is there still a Dr. Dixon there?
PAMELA DEAN:
I'm not sure.
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Oh, he was wonderful. He was a wonderful teacher, and I was running for President of the Women's Residence Council, and I was campaigning and I had this Art History exam. I just knew that I wasn't prepared for it, and I never ever wanted to go into an exam unprepared. So I remember going to his class, to his office, and I had never done this before, but I asked him whether he would give me an extension on the exam of one or two days because I was just so exhausted from campaigning and that I really wanted to do well on the exam. And he said no, and I remember sobbing in his office, and I just could not stop crying. He was taken aback, but boy, he did not change his mind. He just would not let me, and so I took it, and I remember I got a B on that exam, which was devastating at the time, but I got over it. There were some wonderful teachers, Professor Boyd, Professor McCurdy, some of the really inspiring professors in religion and psychology that really got us all to think about things in a way we never had before.
PAMELA DEAN:
Was there any particular professor who encouraged you to go to graduate school?
SHARON ROSE POWELL:
Absolutely. Barry Hounshell. Barry Hounshell is the one. I'd never ever thought of going to graduate school. It was in the winter of my senior year, and I had already missed a lot of deadlines for graduate schools because it had not occurred to me, and I guess I had the option of going right into teaching, but Barry Hounshell's the one who recognized that certainly with my interest and dedication in education that going for the Master's would be something that would really benefit me, both educationally and, later, professionally. No one in my family would have encouraged me to do that or even thought of it, and none of my friends, my boyfriend was in graduate school at Princeton at the time, but I didn't know any women who were going on to graduate school. They were all getting married, and probably if Bob had decided to marry me at graduation, I probably would have done that and not gone to graduate school, but we were not at the place where we were going to get married, and graduate school seemed like a wonderful way to spend my year after college, so that's what I did.