Five years after the Women's Initiative report ignited discussion on gender issues, the student-driven Undergraduate Committee on Gender seeks to go beyond the talk and offer broad policy recommendations to the University's administration based on undergraduate input.
At the committee's first full meeting Tuesday, the group decided on a list of topics to address and discussed methods of collecting student opinion.
Beginning March 17, the committee will gather students' views on gender-related issues using an online forum and a series of focus groups to which all interested students are invited.
Two co-chairs, seniors Jenny Staton and Alex Pratt, have divided the 14-person committee into pairs that will lead seven separate focus groups on how gender factors into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues; athletics; social atmosphere; the Duke living experience; curricular and extracurricular engagement; race; and the first-year experience.
"One of our goals is to design a process to collect student input efficiently," Pratt said.
Though he and Staton were chosen by Duke Student Government to lead the committee, the group is now completely independent of DSG.
Senior Gina Ireland, DSG vice president for academic affairs, said the independence of the committee from the current DSG administration is crucial so that the final document can be passed down to future administrations and create "institutional memory."
"One of the problems [in accomplishing policy changes] is that student governments last a year," said DSG President Paul Slattery, a senior. "If you can have a committee-drafted document you can have next year's executive board take it up."
He said he does not think there has been a similar initiative among students in recent history, adding that future DSG administrations could use the creation of the Committee on Gender as an example for action when they come across complex and long-term issues.
Pratt said he does not anticipate lackluster student attendance for the forums because of an overwhelming response, from more than 200 students, that he and Staton received to their last e-mail soliciting more volunteers for the committee.
"This is a unique opportunity for someone not in DSG to make an impact," Pratt said.
Though the committee will use data collection methods similar to the Women's Initiative Steering Committee, Staton said the gender committee has taken criticisms of the Women's Initiative report into account.
Because the steering committee did not include males in its focus groups and made programming recommendations-such as the Baldwin Scholars program-the Committee on Gender hopes to synthesize the views of both genders to make policy recommendations that will affect more students.
For example, the planning of the new Central Campus may pose an opportunity for the committee to make recommendations related to housing, Staton said.
After the focus groups are held, committee members for each area will bring their notes and personal recommendations back to the rest of the committee, Staton said.
The full committee will make final decisions on recommendations, and the co-chairs will draft the document to be submitted to DSG. This report's findings will then be distributed to the administration as well as the student body.
Though the deadline for the draft of the committee's findings is set at April 7, Staton said she and Pratt are trying to get it extended.
"I hope that we can use [the report] as a road map," said Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki. "I was enthusiastic to hear DSG will take this on."
Staton said she plans to recommend that DSG charter a similar committee next year that would hold more forums spread over a longer period of time.
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