What We Know So Far

Our ongoing research reveals that concerns about safety may contribute to gender disparities at the University of Virginia. Specifically, we find that, compared with male students and faculty:

  1. female students and faculty find Grounds too dark at night,
  2. female students and faculty feel less safe on Grounds,
  3. female students and faculty are less willing to work in University facilities (e.g., labs, libraries) at night, and
  4. female faculty feel less at home at the University.

Moreover, among faculty, concerns about safety seem to account for women’s lower sense of belonging at the University; concerns about safety also seem to account for women’s reluctance to use University facilities at night. These concerns likely affect women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in particular because these women must do their scholarship in lab spaces. Safety concerns might then be keeping women from working longer hours at night and undermine women’s productivity.

Impact so far

This project has led to a collaboration with the University’s Facilities & Management, and the Office of the Architect. Last spring, we undertook an ambitious project to measure light levels across Grounds. We asked our research assistants to go out in teams and measure nighttime light levels at various locations identified as potentially problematic. We found that, at almost all locations, the median and modal light levels were zero foot-candles (fc). To put these light levels in context, an overcast night sky registers at .0001. These levels differ strikingly from recommended light levels from the Illuminating Engineer’s Society.  Based on our data, Facilities & Management, and the Office of the Architect are prioritizing several lighting projects and have begun adding lights to these locations. We are delighted that the University has been so responsive to this research.

We are grateful to the University for making the relevant data available for this study. We also thank U.Va. CHARGE and the Office of the Provost for supporting this project.