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Women's task force plans out research

Four months after President Nan Keohane announced a new University-wide gender initiative, administrators, faculty, staff and students across campus are beginning the initial stages of research pertaining to women's issues.

The efforts are being spearheaded by the Women's Steering Committee, a 15-member task force that draws from every corner of the University. The committee has broken itself into smaller working groups that are focusing on gender issues concerning employees at the University and Medical Center; faculty; undergraduate, graduate and professional school students; and alumni.

"Our goal for the year is to collect information and to do research," said Susan Roth, committee chair and professor of psychology: social and health sciences. "We really don't know anything yet."

The committees are conducting their research primarily by compiling data and forming focus and discussion groups. The committee will bring together qualitative and quantitative information in individual reports, due to Keohane in June 2003.

The largest component of the gender study will center on issues relating to non-faculty employees, who number more than 17,000. Statistics on the placement of women at the University and Medical Center are currently being gathered in hopes of finding discernible gender-related patterns, said Judith White, assistant vice president and director of the Residential Programming Review.

Vice President for Institutional Equity Sally Dickson added that the working group will examine University treatment of sexual harassment, bonus pay, performance recognition and career advancement opportunities.

Due to the massive size of the work force, Keohane has appropriated funds to bring in external consultants, possibly by the end of the semester.

Roth said the initiative will also address faculty concerns in considerable depth. Using statistics available through the provost's office, the working group is examining gender ratios in departments, as well as the breakdown between male and female faculty in terms of salary equity and the tenure process. Individual interviews will explore issues such as the working atmosphere in specific departments.

Women's Center Director Donna Lisker and Duke Student Government Chief of Staff Emily Grey are co-chairing the undergraduate student task force, which has decided to focus the fall semester on social issues and the spring semester on academic issues.

"Socially, we are focusing on group conformity, paired conformity and individual conformity [to stereotypes], and how gender plays out in all those aspects," said Grey, a senior. Issues surrounding eating disorders, date rape and the so-called hook-up culture will come under consideration, Lisker added.

Academic gender issues to be discussed in the spring include classroom participation and dynamic, distribution of scholarships and selection of majors among men and women, Grey said. The working committee has already invited speakers and planned focus groups, panels and dorm dialogues to facilitate its discussion-based research.

The graduate and professional schools will conduct their research in the reverse order, concentrating on academics first semester and social aspects second.

"We will first launch a survey to look at the student academic support system and mentoring to get an idea of their experience in graduate and professional schools," said Jacqueline Looney, associate dean for student affairs at the Graduate School. "After that, we will go into a series of focus groups and discussions."

Looney said students who have dropped out of the graduate and professional schools will be surveyed to determine what factors contributed to their departures.

Finally, University officials will set up discussion groups for the second semester with young and old alumni in six select cities: New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Francisco.

Roth said that although the research and accompanying recommendations are due in June, Keohane will most likely release a preliminary report by the end of the school year.