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Class advocates new living option for women

Many women on campus found a survey in their e-mail inboxes Nov. 15 asking if they would be interested in a new housing option for women at Duke.

As part of their course work this semester, students in PubPol 140 “Women as Leaders” found that there was an imbalance in the social living dynamic at the University. To correct it, they are proposing a new living option for women on Duke’s campus. The class plans to hold a focus group discussion Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Women’s Center Lounge to discuss the proposal.

Rachel Seidman, associate director of Duke Center for History, Public Policy and Social Change, who taught PubPol 140 this semester, required her students to identify a problem and address it through an overarching class project.

As a result of the class discussion and project aims, a survey was sent Nov. 15 to various women’s group listservs.

Of the 400 women who responded to the e-mail survey, 208 said they would be interested in the option, said junior Laurel Sisler who wrote the blast e-mail. Although the project is still in the beginning stages, PubPol 140 students feel that the response was great enough to merit pursuing the matter further.

“There is a monopoly of social power [on campus]—it may seem silly—but men, especially fraternities, have the power because they have the space to hold parties and do other things,” Sisler said.

The proposed living group hopes to cater to these concerns, and “provide a living space that will foster women’s agency on campus through mentoring relationships, dialogue and promoting egalitarian campus culture,” according to its mission statement.

Class members would ideally like to acquire space in Few Quadrangle so that the living group could conveniently conduct programming in conjunction with the Women’s Center.

“We want this to be a living space for women but we also understand that these gender issues are relevant to both men and women,” senior JeNaye Johnson said. “We wouldn’t just focus on the women’s side, we also want to hear from the men who maybe aren’t happy with the way things are currently running.”

Students working on the project were unsure about the timetable for its implementation.

“If at all possible, we’re doing everything we can to push to have this done for next Fall, but we understand that Room Pix is coming up soon,” Sisler said.

The program hopes to expand on elements of the Baldwin Scholars program, but without the selectivity.

“We want to create a diverse group of women living there. We’re trying to shy away from the selectivity process. We wouldn’t have an application or interview,” Johnson said.

Project participants hope the living option would provide various relevant speakers through a lecture series and involve a monthly discussion topic. They also want to incorporate academics through a house course or another similar structure.

“We’d love for people to read some of the books we’ve read and have the discussions we had,” Sisler said. “We just want to have an environment to foster these informal conversations about these subjects.”

PubPol 140 students have presented the idea to Duke Trustee Kimberly Jenkins, Trinity ’76, Graduate School ’77 and ’80, and they hope to draft a formal proposal to present to Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education, using the feedback from Tuesday’s group discussion.


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