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Council has unfinished business

Launched in May 2002 by former president Nannerl Keohane, the Women's Initiative was charged with examining the state of women on campus-from female students to female faculty and staff.

For University employees, the Initiative sparked much necessary change, including the Faculty Diversity Initiative, lactation rooms on University property and better childcare support and family leave policies. These measures have improved the quality of life of the University's female employees.

Though the Initiative was valuable as a wake-up call to the problems facing women on campus and as an impetus to these tangible improvements, in the six years since it began, progress has been conspicuously absent for one crucial constituency of women-undergraduate students.

The report of the Women's Initiative highlighted several clear issues of concern for undergraduate women. Most notable among them were the prevalence of the "effortless perfection" mindset and the fraternity-dominated social scene on campus.

The President's Council on Women, which was an outgrowth of the report, should have served as an effective mechanism to address these serious gender-specific problems at Duke and to bring them to the attention of top University administrators.

But like so many other committees, commissions and councils on this campus, this one has failed to produce real results for the student body.

From the outset, the Council was handicapped by its lack of a clear and consistent mandate. Without this, the Council appears to have devolved into a biennial venue for administrators to learn about already existing projects that aim to benefit Duke women. Like the President's Council on Black Affairs, the Council on Women was mainly a forum for "updates."

This year, six years after the inception of the Women's Initiative, the Council has been put on hiatus. According to President Richard Brodhead, the Council is being reevaluated before it will be put back into commission at some unclear time in the future.

Though the circumstances that surrounded the tabling of the Council are not widely known, and this is a big problem in itself, the Council's suspension provides us the opportunity to redefine the body's mission and enhance its efficacy.

The President's Council on Women should be reinstated, and it should meet regularly to discuss, analyze and formulate real solutions to the real problems it has defined.

We already know what are the serious issues facing female students on campus. Administrative reports dating back fifteen years-from William Willimon's "We Work Hard, We Play Hard" to the more recent Report of the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee-have identified University structures that are detrimental to a healthy lifestyle for Duke's undergraduate women.

As a University, we love to brag that, because of the relative youth of our institution, we are open to self-evaluation and change.

When it comes to women's issues, we have been particularly adept at self-analysis and self-critique. What we lack, however, is the backbone, initiative and leadership to follow through on our own diagnosis. Patchwork efforts such as the Women's Mentoring Network and the Baldwin Scholars program are valuable, but they are not close to sufficient.

Undoing the status quo will require difficult decisions. But a University that is truly committed to gender equality cannot continue to operate in this way, merely perpetuating the problems of the past.

Enough with the talk, the committees, the focus groups. Let's do something.

Lucy McKinstry recused herself from this editorial.


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