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Baldwin should extend reach

Women’s Weekend begins Thursday, providing an appropriate time to reflect upon the status of women at the University. At this weekend’s events, one of the Duke’s most impressive females, former President Nan Keohane, will discuss her perspective on the progress that has been made for Duke women. While president, Keohane led the committee that carried out the milestone Women’s Initiative in 2002 and 2003. After collecting and compiling information, the Women’s Initiative revealed that much more needed to be done for women.

One of the most visible results of the Women’s Initiative was the Baldwin Scholars program, now in its eighth year. At conception, the program aimed to create a “seed group” of female students who, after benefiting from a concentrated, programmatic experience, could make positive contributions to women’s issues on campus. By now, these issues are well known, namely the pressure to achieve without trying­—“effortless perfection” being the most famous among them. If the Baldwin program sought to address these issues systematically, it still has a long way to go.

The creation of the Baldwin Scholars program affirmed the University’s commitment to its female students but, so far, has not made the crucial next step in investing in Duke’s female population writ large. The initiative has shown how effective investing in women can be. After its first five years, the Baldwin program was reviewed with positive results. According to a give-person review committee convened by President Richard Brodhead, the program proved very effective for its own scholars.

But the same review raised questions about how many women were impacted outside of the program. Many individual scholars have made impactful marks on campus, but it is unclear that their participation in the program lead to this; these driven students would likely achieve much on their own.

In the meantime, the program has not done much to extend benefits beyond 18 students per year. Currently, many services and opportunities for development are offered to the small group of women who are selected for this scholarship. This program requires financial resources for its closed opportunities, such as retreats, special workshops and networking receptions. While the scholars benefit from taking advantage of these enrichment opportunities, we believe that this program could extend its impact on the campus community beyond one-off events, like their annual sponsored speaker.

Creating a “seed group” suggests that the group would give back to the greater Duke community. In fact, one of the Baldwin Scholars program’s objectives is to “positively influence the culture for women at Duke.” Baldwin has proven that programs can make things better and has become a great vehicle for extending these benefits. At this point, there is no reason not to extend specific programmatic benefits—like a workshop on public speaking, currently available to Baldwin scholars—to all of Duke’s women students.

The Baldwin Scholars program should continue to evolve and explore its role on campus. We encourage the program to prioritize its goal of giving back to the community of Duke women by placing a new focus on open workshops and events that could benefit everyone.

If Women’s Weekend 2012 has something to teach us, it is that there are problems left to solve. Concentrating on the whole Duke community would make Baldwin a bigger part of the solution.

Rewa Choudhary recused herself from this editorial because she is a member of the Baldwin Scholars program.

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