Learning from the Women's Initiative

Five years ago, the Women's Initiative report began a discussion on gender issues that the Undergraduate Committee on Gender seeks to move forward today. The Women's Initiative is more than just a foundation for the current, student-driven committee; it must serve as a cautionary tale as well.

Although the initiative shed light on some of the problems that plague collegiate women, it failed to produce the results that this campus needs.

The initiative failed to account for numerous perspectives from both genders. Because of this, it could not create policy recommendations for all members of the University. Instead, the initiative's impact was contained to small sectors of the University.

Given this history, we have been skeptical about the Committee on Gender's ability to deliver results. What's encouraging, however, about this committee is its student-driven foundations, the interest the student body has demonstrated in these issues and the genuine intentions of those who have created and worked on the committee.

We admire the vision, dedication and passion of the Committee on Gender; our concerns lie in not the heart of the committee, but in the execution of its goals. We fear the logistical problems that the committee faces will lead it down the same path as the Women's Initiative.

In order to create viable and effective long-term policies to address these gender issues, the committee must not be constrained by its own deadlines. The preliminary April 7 deadline for the committee's final report is far too little time for the information gathering and analysis in which this committee needs to engage.

Information gathering is a crucial part of this process, especially because the initiative was lacking in this area. The seven separate focus groups the committee has called for this week may prove to be very self-selecting, with some of the usual actors-such as the Baldwin Scholars program, AQUADuke and the LGBT Task Force-shaping the discussion. The committee needs to seek input from a wide variety of campus sources, not echo the voices that have already spoken extensively on the issue.

Only with true student input can the information-gathering phase of this committee be complete. This is a process that can take months, even years, to be done correctly-not weeks.

In seeking focus groups to address seven different areas-race, social atmosphere, the Duke living experience, athletics, LGBT issues, the first-year experience and curricular/extracurricular engagement-in a single week, the committee has proven itself overambitious. Information gathering cannot be rushed, especially on such a broad range of important topics.

In order to truly avoid the mistakes of the initiative and effectively bring in general student input, the committee must operate on a timeline that reflects the care and thought that gender issues require.

As candidates for Duke Student Government begin to present their platforms and prioritize their visions for this University, we hope they make the Committee on Gender and its work an election issue.


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