A life spent supporting students

Jo Anne Trow will speak about the history of women at OSU on March 30. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

For nearly five decades, Jo Anne Trow has been considered a leader in student affairs – from the time when women college administrators were rare and the title “Dean of Women” still existed at most universities.

The former Vice Provost for Student Affairs at Oregon State University has been retired since 1995, but still has her finger on the pulse of an evolving institution. Trow was just named a Pillar of the Profession by the student affairs professional association, NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators).

Trow will speak about the history of women at Oregon State from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., March 30, in the Memorial Union Room 208, as part of Women’s History Month. It is a brown bag event, desserts and drinks will be provided. The event is presented by the WAGE office.

For many women of Trow’s generation, attending college was not an automatic assumption, but she and her siblings, male and female, were all encouraged to pursue higher education. Trow did her undergraduate work at Denison University, a small school in Ohio, and attended Indiana University for her master’s degree, and Michigan State for her doctorate. Few of her professors were women. But still, there were women in academia Trow could look up to – the Deans of Women.

Although female administrators were typically few and far between, the Deans of Women at universities sat in powerful positions, Trow said. In most cases, those positions were established before Deans of Men were created, and so were professional associations for these female administrators. The position was focused on the general welfare of the college’s female students, including everything from housing and employment services to social programs.

When Trow was hired at Oregon State University in 1965 as Assistant Dean of Women, there were only a handful of other female administrators, including the Dean of Home Economics and the department head of Women’s Physical Education.

But times were already changing. By 1969, OSU reorganized its structure and Trow became Associate Dean of Students, later to become the Vice President of Student Affairs in the early 1980s.

“It was the end of an era,” she said as the position of Dean of Women disappeared from college campuses. “But perhaps it was an era that needed to end.”

Trow said she never experienced any limitations to her career because of her gender, but said that was in large part due to her choice of fields.

“I was moving up in a field where there were just women,” she said. Her attitude as well was also a large part of her success.

“I never really allowed myself to be put in second place if I didn’t want to be,” she said.

However, Trow recognized that women in academia did face special challenges and difficulties. In the tumultuous 1970s, as Title IX changed the face of college sports, and academic law suits brought the pay discrepancies of female faculty to the forefront in Oregon, Trow became part of a group of campus women who started to organize a support group for women faculty and administrators, later to become the OSU Women’s Network.

Student Affairs also was changing, as women began voicing interest in non-traditional academic paths, and as the cry for gender equity got louder.

“You could see it even in conservative Corvallis. The changes in the students drove some of the changes in structure,” she said.

Trow said that female students today have the opportunity for a more diverse academic experience, and more changes to take on university-wide leadership roles, and female faculty are now expanding into non-traditional fields, and taking on more administrative positions as well.

As for the changes to student affairs, she sees the basic premise remaining the same, even as techniques and structures change. Universities want to provide a holistic student experience that goes beyond the classroom and serves to shape the students on many levels. She hopes that students who plan to go onto a career in student affairs make sure to enrich their own experiences and lives before focusing on supporting other students.

“Get some work experience outside of higher education before you pursue your degree,” she said. “Secondly, get experience in a number of institutions. Go someplace else (other than where you were educated). Go to a different part of the country. And thirdly, always recognize that Student Affairs is not the end all and be of all of the students’ experience, and you’ve got to relate to the academic area.”

~ Theresa Hogue

Comments are closed.