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Mankato man says girls' science camp discriminates against boys

Charlie Hurd of Mankato says he "just wants boys to have the same chance"... in a field already overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Charlie Hurd of Mankato says he "just wants boys to have the same chance"... in a field already overwhelmingly dominated by men. Associated Press

Charlie Hurd has a bone to pick with Minnesota State University.

Last year, the Mankato resident filed a federal Title IX complaint claiming one of the science camps offered by the university was engaging in gender discrimination.

No, not that way. The other way.

Hurd thinks the university’s Girls Explore STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Day Camp, which welcomes kids in sixth through ninth grade, discriminates against male students.

“I just want boys to have the same chance as girls,” he told the Mankato Free Press. The school library specialist and former city council member wants MSU-Mankato to offer co-ed camps or add a separate camp solely for boys. Hurd's Title IX claim is now under investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

The Office of Civil Rights states that opening an investigation “in no way implies” the office has “made a determination with regard to its merit.”

Hurd is hardly the only person to have had this idea. In recent years, a rash of similar reviews have been opened into universities across the nation for scholarships, awards, workshops, and camps targeted toward women and girls.

Over 50 of those were filed by one guy: University of Minnesota alumnus Mark Perry, who now teaches finances at the University of Michigan-Flint. Perry is on a one-man mission to end what he calls "gender-apartheid," according to a piece in the Los Angeles Times; a profile in the Star Tribune says his quest for parity started with integrating a women’s-only study lounge at Michigan State University.

“They had this prime space on campus where they were discriminating against half the student body,” he said.

Perry moved on to faculty opportunities, scholarships, awards, and most recently, science, math, and engineering camps for girls. He argued that these discriminated not only against boys, but students of “all genders, gender identities, and gender expressions.”

Last year, Perry's Title IX complaint against the U of M, his alma mater, succeeded in changing the eligibility requirements for a handful of scholarships for women. In September, the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into three more.

“You can see it’s pretty easy,” he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank) blog. “And there are likely thousands of single-gender, female-only scholarships, awards, fellowships, initiatives, programs, summer camps, clubs, etc. that are ripe for a Title IX investigation.”

Curiously, Perry's concern for gender equality rarely extends to the current reality for women (and/or nonbinary folks, for that matter) in STEM fields. The Pew Research Center found that although plenty of women work in STEM—perhaps a little more than 50 percent, according to some reports—their distribution is… patchy.

For example, women make up the majority of health-related occupations, but only 14 percent of engineering jobs. Some 96 percent of speech language pathologists are women; about 93 percent of mechanical engineers are men.

And half of all women in STEM careers say they face discrimination at work. Compare that to 19 percent of men. It gets even worse if you happen to be, say, a black or Hispanic woman.

This imbalance was why programs like Mankato State's STEAM camp were created in the first place. Multiple studies have shown that girls’ involvement in STEM drops off in early adolescence, and many experts see that as a perfect time to boost confidence and inspire curiosity in the field.

In a statement, a spokesperson with MSU-Mankato said the school is "very proud" of its many camps, and that Girls Explore STEAM is open to "any youth" in the proper age range.

"This camp is one of many opportunities we offer to the youth of Minnesota to gain positive exposure to opportunities in higher education and explore future career paths," the statement said. The Free Press also noted that in 2018, the year Hurd filed his complaint, a co-ed camp was also offered.