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Women in Audio: Fostering support and breaking barriers in the sound engineering field

The club is dedicated to uplifting its female audio engineers in a male-dominated industry

From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's December 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here

On a quiet Sunday evening, secluded from the rest of campus, music plays from within the Kreeger Building’s recording studio. It is the sound of Women in Audio’s artists and engineers hard at work. 

Run by students from American University’s undergraduate and graduate Audio Technology Program, Women in Audio was created with a simple aim — to build a supportive professional environment for female and nonbinary students interested in the audio field, according to club Vice President Tessa Giasson. 

Audio engineers are responsible for capturing, mixing or reproducing sound using electronic audio equipment. 

The club teaches members to record, edit and mix sound hands on. Many members said the organization has empowered them to find their stride in a heavily male-dominated industry

“There’s so few of us, and we all find that we run into similar challenges,” said Giasson, a graduate student in the Audio Technology Program. “How do you, as a female audio engineer, assert yourself and be confident?” 

The audio engineering world is disproportionately male, a fact mirrored in the composition of the University’s Audio Technology classes and faculty. A quick glance at the University’s website shows that all 11 faculty and staff members in the Audio Technology Program are male-presenting. Many of Women in Audio’s members report having few female classmates in their Audio Technology classes. 

“As I took more audio classes, I became very conscious of the ratio between women and men,” Sage Durate, a sophomore in the Program, said. “For a few of my classes, I was the only girl. The most [female classmates] I think I’ve had is like four.” 

Duarte said that this imbalance is exacerbated by microaggressions she and fellow female students experience from their male peers.

“They don’t really talk to you because you’re a girl, and it really gets to you,” Duarte said. “When you’re new to this and you don’t have a lot of experience, everything looks really intimidating and inaccessible. And as a woman, it becomes even more inaccessible because of how hard it is to get through to anyone. They don’t want to talk to you.” 

Because she’s treated this way, Duarte said, she constantly feels that she has to prove herself. 

“I always show up to class looking nice, looking put together,” she said. “And part of that is, I think, a subconscious thing to help build me up. To be like, yes, I can take this class, I can be here. I’m just as good as anyone and just as qualified.” 

Giasson said Women in Audio actively works to counter this isolating culture by fostering one of collaboration instead. The club gives students of every experience level and musical background the opportunity to try new skills. Giasson said that this system not only gives members confidence in their abilities, it also helps set new cultural standards within the audio engineering world. 

“To me, it’s really important to create allyships with everybody, make sure that they feel welcome and included, that they’re acknowledged for the skills that they have,” she said. “Because everybody in audio is going to be good at something, it’s just a matter of trying it out.”

Duarte said the Women in Audio community has given her a supportive space to nurture her creative potential, free from the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that sometimes surface in classroom settings. 

“This is so good for accessibility,” she said. “You come in, it’s hands-on, no one is battering you down or calling you dumb for not knowing how to do something, they just help you learn. And that’s the whole point.” 

This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Zoe Bell, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing by Isabelle Kravis, Luna Jinks and Emilia Rodriguez. 

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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