Changemakers: Women at the University of Toronto and the Struggle for Equity

2021, University of Toronto Archives
Archives, campus, equity, hart house, university, University of Toronto, women
About This Project

Date: TBD
Partner: University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services
Project Members: Bryna Bernstein, Camilo Mejia, Kes Murray
Many members of the public and students attending the University of Toronto today are not aware of how much the university has changed in a short amount of time. Changemakers: Women at the University of Toronto and the Struggle for Equity is an online exhibit that explores and highlights the role women played on campus from the late 1950s to the early 2000s. For most of this time, women were a minority on campus, many felt they faced barriers that made it an unequal, exclusionary, and discriminatory place. Despite this, women challenged these barriers, achieved success, and made their voices heard. We hope that the online exhibition will make visitors reflect and be mindful of the barriers women faced and how their courage and persistence led to meaningful change that can be seen at the university today. This exhibition is relevant to today’s issues because the barriers these women were fighting against still exist today in different forms for many people.
This project cannot examine all the challenges women faced at the U of T. However, it does focus on four specific areas or themes that relate to gender equity at the university. These themes include: pay equity, education equity, equal opportunities, and access to facilities. Each of these themes examines a case study which will hopefully help visitors delve further into the topic and gain a better understanding of the event. These include the 2001 pay equity lawsuit between four retired professors and the university, the creation of the Women and gender studies department, issues related to employment opportunities, and the events leading to the opening of Hart House to women in 1972. The decision to include these four case studies was made not only because they were well documented in the university’s archives, but they are also major events in the push for women’s equity and inclusion in the university’s political and social spheres.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the groups faced challenges accessing the archives in person. This affected our exhibition timeline, making it a struggle to complete our research phase and finish milestones on schedule. Our contact at the archives, Tys Klumpenhouwer, was able to conduct some of our research for us. However, he also had other pressing responsibilities and was only allowed into the archives once a week.
As in-person research was not a viable option during our research phase, we decided to conduct original research. The group reached out to many current and former female U of T students and faculty members. The women were active from 1950 to the early 2000s and many were either involved first hand or knew of events examined in the proposed themes. The response to our requests for interviews exceeded expectations.
The group ended up interviewing eight women over a two-week period. The discussions we had with these women helped inform the content of our exhibition and opened our eyes to stories that the archives could not tell. The group worked together to transcribe all the interviews and highlighted important quotes that would be used in the exhibit. We also came to realize that, despite speaking to eight different women, the exhibit will only represent a fraction of the different female perspectives and experiences present at the University of Toronto during this time period. In addition to the women we interviewed, some other women we focused on include Jill Conway, Joan Foley, Chaviva Hosek, and Ursula Franklin.
Due to the prolonged research phase, we have had to move on to other parts of exhibition development while research was still in progress. The group created and collaborated on wireframes for the different pages of the online exhibition. This gave us a better sense of how the website would look. Our website will be on the University of Toronto Libraries’ platform. The platform called Omeka is designed for online exhibitions. We plan to have our website published by late May.
This exhibition could not have been possible without the help of Kay Armatage, Helen Breslauer, Laurel MacDowell, Lorna Marsden, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, Linda Silver Dranoff, Joan Simulchik, and Vanda Vitali. We thank them for allowing us to listen to and share their stories, and for answering our many questions. As well, this exhibition would not be possible without the dedicated help of our archivist, Tys Klumpenhouwer. Thank you, Tys, for being our eyes and ears in the archives. Finally, we would like to thank Agnieszka Chalas, Camille, and Haley for supporting not only us but all of the students from the exhibition course.