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Baldwin review needs perspective

It's been four years since the Baldwin Scholars program was set in place, and now the group designed to cultivate leadership among female Duke students is up for review. The crucial task that this review should take up is to place the Baldwin Scholars program within the larger, and uncomfortable, context of the everyday lives of Duke women and the University's initiatives to improve them.

Created in 2004 as a legacy of the 2003 Women's Initiative study, the program selects 18 freshman women each year. The Scholars then take leadership seminars together, live in a block their sophomore year and generally strive to build the confidence and awareness of each member.

All indications-including the many accomplishments of the Scholars and the high opinion in which most Scholars hold the group-reflect the success of the program in developing its members into strong leaders. But it must be understood that this internal success is not, and was not meant to be, the last frontier in the University's effort to improve the lives of all of its women.

Indeed, the Baldwin Scholars program is an excellent symbol for efforts to address the social problems that female students face, but it does have a narrow effect.

And while the Scholars themselves are enriched by the program, little positive impact grows outward from it and into the rest of the student body-an after-glow at best. The program is by definition exclusive, and creates a somewhat insular community of Scholars who work well together and do laudable things, but who can only generalize the benefit so much.

The issues, too, that face female undergraduates are so substantial as to demand a more complete approach.

For instance, surveys have shown that female undergraduates often leave Duke with less self-confidence than they had upon entering. The primary social outlets at the University are selective living group section parties that require women to go into alcohol-filled male bedrooms in order to socialize.

With President Nan Keohane gone, there is a conspicuous shortage of female administrators. Even sororities do little to empower women-their focus is elsewhere.

At a modern university, such a state of gender inequality is unacceptable, and everyone here knows it.

In response, a series of University initiatives in recent years have addressed gender issues: the Women's Initiative, the Duke Student Government's Undergraduate Committee on Gender, the President's Council on Women and the gender-related elements of the Campus Culture Initiative report. But the Baldwin Scholars program is the most highly visible outgrowth of all of these efforts, and every one of those broader initiatives is now either inactive or extinct.

So of course the program is not to be blamed when it falls short of addressing all the ills of women here. It was clearly intended to be a single initiative that would be a positive force in the lives of a select few female students. The important thing to understand is that although the program may be successful, it's been mostly left behind.

In short, the Baldwin Scholars review should keep context in mind. It should remember that, though its program may be doing well and need only minor changes, it's small consolation to win a battle if you forget that you're fighting a war.


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