Women's group tries to build on Baldwin benefits

Freshman women will no longer have to wait for sorority rush to gain insight into the female role in Duke's social and academic worlds.

Sophomore Lucy McKinstry, a Baldwin Scholar, along with sophomore Bethany Hill and senior Jenn Herring, have recently formed the Women's Mentoring Network---a program to lead and advise freshman women.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki said the University recently decided to support and fund the program, which will run through the Women's Center.

"It's the leadership of the students who are going to push this forward," he said. "It's a great idea, and it's overdue."

The Women's Initiative, a document published in Fall '03, cited an all-woman mentorship program as a needed addition to Duke life.

Although the University created the Baldwin Scholars to address the issue, more females are looking for upperclassman guidance, said Donna Lisker, director of the Women's Center and co-director of the Baldwin Scholars Program.

"[The Baldwin Scholars Program] accepts 18 women per year, and we are having more than 100 per year apply," she said. "To that degree, I think that the Women's Mentoring Network can meet that need."

The first phase of the program will officially begin the week of Sept. 24, with open forum discussions held in every freshman dormitory, McKinstry said. The second phase-small-group focus dinner discussions-will begin later in the semester, she added.

The network hopes to combat the notion of effortless perfection, a phrase made commonly known by the Women's Initiative, Hill said.

"In the case of women, it's expected that you not only be attractive physically, but also intellectual and have a whole plethora of skills under your belt," she said. "We're telling freshmen that if you want to do this it's OK to be an overachiever and you'll have our help, but if not, that's OK too."

Nowicki said the sequence of events that put McKinstry's idea into action is the ideal for policies formed from student feedback.

The notion for the program emerged last spring from forums regarding the Campus Cultural Initiative Steering Committee Report, Herring said.

"We were just talking about the different issues involved with being a woman at Duke," she said. "As upperclassmen we wish we had known a lot of things as freshmen, and we were hoping to create a mentoring program to help the freshmen out."

Sophomore Katie Unverferth said freshmen girls can often find upperclassman women intimidating, and the forums would limit any nervous interactions.

Additionally, McKinstry said she hopes to stretch the resources available to Baldwin Scholars to a wider range of students.

"I've really benefited from older women I've met through [the Baldwin Scholars Program], and we often talk about what ways to extend the benefits that we're lucky enough to be a party of," she said. "That's something that really needs to be a part of the Duke community."

Sophomore Karin English, who is involved in the program, added that East Campus often acts as a barrier between freshmen and the Duke community.

"Freshman year is kind of insulated, and there are other girls out there," she said. "There are different ways of fitting in. There are a lot of different kinds of people out there."

Rachel Revelle, a freshman, said she agreed that having upperclassman friends helps freshmen better acclimate to West Campus.

"It's nice to have everything on East, but [having upperclassman friends] gives you somewhere to go if you're on West between classes," she said. "There's someone you know."


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