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Bernice Resnick Sandler

Birth:
1928

Training Location(s):

BA, Brooklyn College

MA, City University of New York

Ed. D, University of Maryland



Primary Affiliation(s):

Women's Research and Education Institute

Drexel University College of Medicine



Media Links:

Website

Personal Website

 

American Psychological Association Presidential Citation

Archival Collection

Bernice Resnick Sandler Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.


Biography:

 

Career Focus: Gender equality; women’s educational equity; sexual harassment; sexual discrimination; chilly classroom climate.


 

Prior to the 1970’s, the word sexism did not exist. Millions of women across the United States lived a reality that blatantly discredited their personhood and discriminated against their sex. However, without a word to validate these experiences, sex discrimination often went unnoticed or was passively accepted.Like many of the women who were born before the rise of second wave feminism, Bernice Sandler faced prejudices that threatened her career. During her academic journey, she faced a string of discriminatory incidents that eventually impelled her to take action as she approached her forties. Instrumental in attaining gender equality within educational programs, Sandler’s activism for women’s rights led to her being appropriately christened the “Godmother of Title IX.”

 

Bernice Resnick Sandler was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she began and completed much of her academic trajectory.  After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, she pursued her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Brooklyn College. Soon after, she was accepted into the City University of New York and received a Master’s degree in Clinical and School Psychology. Upon the completion of her studies she married and moved to Bloomington, Indiana. With the intention of becoming a professor, Sandler immediately applied to the psychology department’s doctoral program at Indiana University. However, despite her extensive research background, her Master’s degree, and an impressive academic record, Sandler was declined acceptance. Years later, she came to discover that various universities had legal quota systems that monitored the number of women who entered particular programs. The experience became the first of several negative encounters with the education system that eventually inspired Sandler’s activism during the women’s movement.

 

After living in Bloomington for 9 months, Sandler and her husband relocated to Michigan where they resided for the next six years. With her academic aspirations rekindled, she applied and was accepted into the Social Work program at the University of Michigan as a part-time student. However, after completing a number of courses, she was expected to continue her studies full-time. Sandler was now a mother of two young children and the demanding hours of the program proved to be impractical. Forced to quit, she devoted the next couple of years to raising and nurturing her children and later applied to the University of Michigan’s department of psychology. Unfortunately, she was rejected from their doctoral program.

 

In 1964, the family moved to Washington, DC and Sandler, now in her thirties, resumed her pursuit of a doctoral degree by applying to the University of Maryland. Upon receiving her rejection, she was told that the university didn’t accept many women, and older women in particular were rarely admitted. However, after meeting the Chair of Admissions at a social gathering and impressing him with her determination, she was admitted into the Department of Counseling and Personnel Services.

 

As a doctoral student, Sandler voluntarily facilitated several courses at the university while she pursued her studies. The year she received her degree, the University of Maryland underwent a faculty expansion in which several vacancies were open to new graduates. Despite her teaching experience and passion for her career, she was not considered for any of the positions. After inquiring with a male friend about what could have led to her being overlooked, she was informed that she “came on too strong for a woman.” Sandler has since credited these words with awakening her feminist consciousness. Over the next couple of months, Sandler had two more sexist experiences that further opened her eyes to the injustices that professional and academic women consistently faced. After applying for a research position, the interviewer disregarded her qualifications and instead discussed his aversion to hiring women who were mothers. In an incident that occurred shortly after, after reviewing her resumé, an employment counselor referred to her as “a housewife who went back to school” rather than a professional. Frustrated by these events, Sandler began researching the Civil Rights movement in hopes of finding a law that applied to discrimination based on sex. She eventually uncovered a footnote on an Executive Order which prohibited federal contractors from sex discrimination in employment. Since most U.S. post-secondary institutions had federal contracts, she was now able to fight for employment within an academic setting legally.

 

After contacting the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, she was put in touch with the Director, Vincent Macaluso, who helped her strategize a plan of action. As advised, Sandler proceeded to conduct an informal survey under the pretense of academic research at the University of Maryland where she asked each department for a list of their faculty members. She quickly discovered that many of the prestigious departments did not have many women scholars and that an alarming number of women did not have tenure. With the support of Vincent Macaluso and the Women’s Equity Action League, Sandler filed a class action complaint against post-secondary institutions citing non-compliance in several areas that implied sex discrimination: salary differences, admission quotas, employment practices and more. The 80-page complaint, which included data and articles on sex discrimination, was photocopied and sent to the press and various members of Congress. Within a relatively short period of time, The Saturday Review of Literature – a weekly review read by many academics, featured a couple of lines on the issue which sparked an onslaught of personal stories from women within the academic community who had encountered similar experiences of discrimination. Based on their information and anecdotes, Sandler filed complaints against more than 250 universities. Through several congressional hearings, testimonies by numerous women that Sandler brought together, and the support of a number of representatives from the United States Congress (such as Edith Green, who authored the legislation), Title IX of the Education Amendments was passed.

 

Since the passage of Title IX, Bernice Sandler has remained an active supporter of women’s rights. Throughout her career, she has continued to work with the government and various educational institutions to pursue equity for women. In 1975, Presidents Gerald Ford and James Carter appointed her as Chair of the first Federal Advisory Committee on Women’s Educational Equity. This led to pioneering federal reports on sexual harassment in colleges and universities. In 1982, she published a report describing the differences in the ways men and women are treated in academic and professional settings, coining the term “chilly classroom climate.” The article laid the groundwork for additional research on the impact of subtle classroom behaviours that affected women’s participation and self-esteem. In 1996, in collaboration with Lisa A. Silverberg and Roberta M. Hall, Sandler published the book The Chilly Classroom Climate: A Guide to Improve the Education of Women that featured suggestions on how to create encouraging and supportive environments for women and minorities. Sandler has also written extensively on sexual harassment, coining the term “gang rape” in her 1985 report, Friends Raping Friends: Could it Happen to You? Her expertise on equity and sexual discrimination has led to her co-authoring over 100 articles and facilitating over 2500 presentations and workshops all over North America. Sandler currently serves as the Senior Scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington DC. Despite her difficult experiences in academia, she has fulfilled her love for teaching at Drexel University School of Medicine, where she is employed as an Adjunct Associate Professor. 

 

by Jeahlisa Bridgeman (2014)

To cite this article, see Credits


Selected Works:

 

By Bernice Sandler

Sandler, B. R., Silverberg, L.A., & Hall, R.M. (1996). The chilly classroom climate: A guide to improve the education of women. Washington, DC: National Association for Women in Education.

 

Sandler, B. R. (2007). Title IX: How we got it and what a difference it made, Cleveland State Law Review, 55(4), 473.