Sisters and University of Dayton alumni Eileen Trauth and Suzanne Trauth explore gender barriers within information technology in their 2012 original play “iDream,” which will receive its local premiere Wednesday, Dec. 7 in UD’s Black Box Theatre of Fitz Hall.
This timely play concerns three high school girls uncertain of their future who are encouraged by a teacher to attempt the male-dominated IT field, where women are significantly underrepresented.
The characters, plot and dialogue stem from actual interviews with women working in IT who have been marginalized by gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, but who seek inclusion and equality. As they grow to understand more about the field, they discover careers that interest them but also encounter barriers.
“The hope of this play is that it certainly reaches students, but also guidance counselors and parents in order to inform them or alert them to the issues involved in young women getting into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, specifically information science and technology,” said Suzanne, a playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and nonfiction writer based in Woodland Park, N.J.
“There is a growing sense of the issues surrounding women in the STEM fields. We want to address the barriers, the fears, in the hope of changing behavior. It’s also wonderful for two women to be collaborating on a project about other women getting into the IT field.”
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“There are explicit barriers,” echoed Eileen, Professor of Information Sciences and Technology, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies at the Pennsylvania State University. “I’ve interviewed women who weren’t taught the proper math courses or in some cases they had teachers who said girls simply can’t go into the IT field. But what I’m particularly interested in, and why I think theater is really good, is that people internalize, sometimes unconsciously, barriers. For instance, when girls get to middle school and begin to express their gender identity, this is a time when there is a turning away from STEM. So, it can be in conjunction with a person’s definition for what it means to be female.
“And,” she said, “sometimes people hold themselves back due to certain images. What is it that women do? What is it that white women do? I want to investigate why people look at the IT profession and feel they can’t do that kind of work. In addition to women, I’m also researching other underrepresented groups particularly black men and military service members with disabilities in the IT field.”
Over the past four years, “iDream” has been performed at Kean University in Union, N.J., the National Science Foundation Conference in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania State University, Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, and the University of Nebraska in Omaha. The play is also in production for performances in Australia. Michelle Hayford, UD Theatre, Dance, and Performance Technology program director, says the material greatly resonates from a societal standpoint with relatable themes.
“The three main characters have various struggles,” Hayford said. “One is expected to support her family instead of go to college, one needs to care for her brother with disabilities while her father is serving in the military, while another is underestimated and must overcome others’ low expectations of her. All of them have little economic resources and are limited by the ways that gender and cultural norms have constrained them. It is a play that has a social conscience and has us rooting for these women while also feeling sympathetic to the complexity of the obstacles they are facing. This work is aligned with our social justice mission, and it’s been a blessing to work with community members on and off campus, students from Hope Road Youth and Community Theatre, and Karen Spina, wife of our new UD President Eric Spina, who comes from a STEM career, among other UD faculty and staff as well as students in the cast.”
“It’s a thrill to be able to bring our play to UD,” Eileen added. “With this play, we want to raise awareness about the breadth of what the IT field is all about while also raising awareness of biases and barriers. We want to educate people on what you can do in the IT field and hopefully motivate them to action. I really feel this play is more relevant now than when it debuted in 2012. There is so much angst in our society today about jobs. How do we get good jobs? How do we get good jobs that will last? Well, the good news is that there are good jobs in the IT field.”