Study: Women’s Self-Esteem Suffers During College

woman student holding headA report from researchers at Boston College has found that women about to graduate from college have a “worse self-understanding” than they did in their freshman year.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the study that took place in 2012 and was based on an analysis of surveys taken by students at freshman orientation and then repeated four years later just prior to graduation. The results found that female participants left school with lower self-esteem than when they entered, compared to men who were more self-assured by the time they graduated.

Kelli Armstrong, vice president of planning and assessment at Boston College, who led the investigation, put the findings down to the pressures young women face “beyond the classroom”.

The culprits most frequently cited by students as being harmful to their self-esteem included the pressure to look a certain way, the “hook-up culture”, and the housing lottery.

Robin Fleming, chair of the history department, who has worked at the college since 1989, compared the environment on campus 30 years ago to what it’s like today and said the hookup culture is one of the most destructive new elements in the life of today’s coed.

“I used to see people holding hands on campus,” she said. “My students used to get married—to each other. And that’s totally disappeared.”

The pressure to look perfect all the time is also destructive to women’s self-esteem. “Ten years ago the women weren’t as groomed as they are now, and you just notice how much more time women are putting in,” she said.

Both Fleming and  Vice Provost for Faculty Patricia DeLeeuw see this problem as a “girls being mean to girls problem.”

“You can say that the hookup culture maybe, arguably, favors guys, and so that’s male-dominated,” DeLeeuw said. “And the football culture here at BC—okay, male-dominated. The body image stuff is women doing it to women. Guys don’t care what you’re wearing, by and large. And 10 pounds this way or that way, that’s a girl thing.”

DeLeeuw refers to herself as “an aging feminist” and says her generation is responsible for the prevailing poor reputation the feminist movement.

“We have just not done a very good job of convincing women of generations after us that the battle isn’t over, and that the struggle for women’s equality goes on,” she said. “It changes from generation to generation. We have different issues, I suppose, but it’s certainly not over. And we need to pay attention to it.”

Sadly, the results of the Boston College survey aren’t unique to the school. Several other universities, such as Duke and Princeton, have conducted similar studies on female self-esteem that produced the same results – women are entering college feeling a lot better about themselves than when they leave.

A Boston College committee assigned to study the problem has cited as its main goal the need to raise awareness of the problem among faculty, students and administration.

“I think the bottom line … it came from one of the faculty members, who said that this is a University known for sending its students to do social justice work,” said Father James Keenan, S.J., a theology professor at the college and member of the committee. “Maybe we should be doing social justice work here on this campus.”

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