I am looking for relationships with strong and engaging women who will push me to grow and discover myself, as I stand by them in their pursuit of the same.
Nearly three and half years ago, as a fledgling first-year on these hallowed grounds, I culminated my application to the Baldwin Scholars program with some paraphrase of these words. Perhaps spoken in idealistic naïveté at the time, I am happy to report that they ring true. As one of the women privileged with admission to the Baldwin Scholars Program, I have relished the incredible opportunity, basked in the company of remarkable peers and availed resources that are unfortunately not as accessible to others on this campus. Time and again, as an individual and member of this group, I am confronted with the same inquiries: “How can the benefits afforded to this exclusive group transcend the physical boundaries of 18 women? What have the Baldwin Scholars done for women on campus? How have Baldwin Scholars reformed Duke’s social culture for the better?” People have begged these questions and rightly so. The Baldwin Scholars Program was designed to empower more than 72 women at Duke. Amongst ourselves, Baldwins constantly grapple with the challenge of funneling the program’s resources into the campus at large. And in my opinion, we’ve made great strides in doing so.
Every year, Baldwins host or sponsor a smorgasbord of programs that cater to all blue devils. Frequently, these are organized directly through the program. Notable undertakings from this year include Women at Duke Week—an initiative packed with daily events on leadership and professional etiquette (among other things) for first-year women at Duke. A few weeks ago, as part of its annual speaker series, the Baldwin Scholars Program brought Michele Norris, host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” for a lecture in Reynolds Theater. Previously, Mayde Del Valle, Mariane Pearl and Nicholas Kristof lectured as part of this speaker series. The cornucopia of orchestrated events has also included body image campaigns, fashion shows and public negotiation workshops. Furthermore, the program consistently encourages collaboration with other women’s groups (it has planned an upcoming event celebrating women in conjunction with these other assemblages).
But perhaps just as, if not more, significant than the events organized directly by the Baldwin Scholars Program, are those events that Baldwin has played an implicit role in. These are initiatives that Baldwin students, with the support and stewardship of Baldwin, have brought to fruition, in the academic departments, student groups and jobs that consume their non-Baldwin lives. These female students serve as a conduit for Baldwin’s influence on campus. These women approach the program for resources—human and capital, sponsorship, etc. when they host a workshop on domestic violence, run for DSG president or Young Trustee (as Awa Nur and Michelle Sohn did) or write a thesis on race and gender identity. As a member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on campus, I’ve reached out to Baldwin to sponsor events on women in Islam, and it has graciously obliged. Consequently, it has touched other communities.
It is unfortunate that resources are not sufficient for Baldwin to become an all-inclusive program and that it depends on trickle to contact some segments of campus. But in spite of this limitation, Baldwin seems to be doing a pretty swell job.
In offering this letter, I am NOT claiming a dearth in room for improvement. On the contrary, there is copious space for progress and Baldwins, like everyone, are acutely aware of that fact. But as I write this letter I do implore you to consider a few things. First, the Baldwin Scholars program is a relatively nascent enterprise. It has a long way to go, but it has made remarkable advances in a few short years. Second, Baldwins have been bestowed with great favor and resources that they strive to amplify into benefits for all, but in order for them to penetrate this campus, you must reach out to the program. Swing by the office, propose an idea and collaborate with us to impact reform—then avail what is offered. For 72 women to reach thousands is a lot more probabilistically challenging than it may seem. The reverse isn’t. As we look back on the celebrations of last weekend, remember not just to rely on a few for change but to engage in the change ourselves. Baldwin will continue in this vein, we hope you will join it, too.
Khadijah Bhatti, Trinity ’12