The independent news organization of Duke University

Baldwins seek to empower Duke females

Effortless perfection.

This term, thrown around often in campus culture discussions and debates, sprang out of the Women's Initiative, a study commissioned by the University in 2003 that examined a myriad of gender-specific issues at Duke.

"That's where we first heard about this phenomenon about women feeling like they have to be perfect in every aspect of their lives," said Donna Lisker, associate dean for undergraduate education and co-director of the Baldwin Scholars program. "That's an impossible standard. And when you fall short of it-because you will-it leads to diminished self confidence and an increase of competition among women."

The administration then proposed the Baldwin Scholars Program to remedy such a culture and encourage women's leadership.

When the Women's Initiative report was released, former President Nan Keohane, who chaired the committee, wrote that women on campus also face "lingering, subtle but nonetheless pervasive and debilitating stereotypes and prejudicial expectations about what they can accomplish."

These "suffocating" norms have shaped University culture for years, and made it impossible for women to flourish as human beings, Keohane had said.

At the birth of the Baldwin program in 2004, the 18 girls who were selected to be the first generation of Baldwins took an assessment test that measured their level of self-confidence. Upon graduation, they took the same test and their results were compared to their earlier scores and the scores of two groups of Duke women who were not involved in the program but had also taken the same test, Lisker said.

"[Scores for] women in the program all went up," she said. "We know it's working for them. The thing that was depressing is that [the girls outside the program] did not show the same increase as the Baldwins. They remained about where they started or even declined over the four years. Baldwin Scholars is working for the women in it, but Duke is still not doing enough to support women in general."

The Baldwin program is currently under review by the President's Office to evaluate the program's success in the last four years. The review is headed by a committee that will make a recommendation to President Richard Brodhead on the direction that the program should take in the future.

Each year, more than 100 freshmen girls apply to the program, and only 18 are selected after an initial application process and several rounds of interviews, Lisker said.

The freshmen that are selected for the program then participate in a second-semester seminar course together and are each given a "big," or a mentor, from the year above them. In their junior or senior year, the women also participate in a capstone course about women in leadership and have an internship set up through the Baldwin program.

Another feature of the program is that the girls live together on West Campus during their sophomore year.

Sophomore Morgan Sheppard, a Baldwin Scholar, said living with the girls gives them an opportunity to get to know one another and, like the function of the mentoring program, facilitates additional support for the girls.

"[It} provides a more holistic experience," Lisker said about the two required academic courses and residential year.

Sheppard said although the program admits only a handful of women, it is meant to be beneficial to the entire Duke community.

"There aren't only 18 leaders in each class and they pick each woman for a different reason, but just because some people might not get in doesn't mean she can't be a leader," she said. "Every woman has the potential in her to be a leader. This program is more about creating a small network of women that can then empower all the women on campus."

Sophomore Allie Speidel, a Baldwin Scholar, said the program is the perfect size, even if confidence boost and leadership benefits are directed only to those girls in the program.

"They do a really good job of picking girls who don't really know each other so they're from different circles," she said. "So even though not all the girls on campus are involved, they somehow, indirectly, know a Baldwin through that network."

Even if the program isn't reaching all women on campus, Campus Council President Molly Bierman, a senior, said women not involved in the Baldwin program still attain high leadership roles in prominent campus organizations such as Duke University Union, Duke Student Government and Campus Council.

"I personally have never found gender to be a factor in getting higher leadership positions on campus," she added. "I know that there is a discussion about that, but I've never had that feeling of personal barriers. Of course, I went to 14 years of an all-girls school, so there's that girl power instilled in me through that, and I guess I have a little bit of a different perspective than other people."

Lisker added that a major concern is that the advantages of the program are not reaching enough girls on campus.

"It is hard to figure out how to generalize the benefit, how to figure out how to spread that wealth," she said. "That's the biggest challenge, hands down."


Share and discuss “Baldwins seek to empower Duke females” on social media.