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Baldwin Scholars feel 'slighted' about losing East Campus office space

In 2004, former Duke President Keith Brodie retired and requested that his office be allocated to the Baldwin Scholars Program. Since then, the scholars have occupied the office and meeting space in the East Duke Building on East Campus. 

The Spring 2019 semester was the last of the tradition. 

In April, Baldwin members and Program Director Colleen Scott were informed that the space would be reassigned to the Kenan Institute for Ethics. The Baldwin Scholars’ program office will now be part of an area in Smith Warehouse shared by the other programs under the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows.

“We got an email from the director of the program informing us we were essentially being evicted from our space,” said sophomore Susana Gutiérrez, who is a member of the Baldwin Scholars program. “She had found out at the end of the year—it was strategically done toward the end of April so there wasn’t really any time to fight back or protest.”

In response to the initial decision, Gutiérrez submitted a letter to The Chronicle on behalf of the Baldwin Scholars and alumnae, signed by 115 current scholars and alumnae. The letter stated that the process used to make the decision was unfair and excluded the Baldwin Scholars being directly impacted.

Gutiérrez wrote in the letter that Duke did not work with the director of the program, program staff nor Baldwin Scholars as they made the choice to move their office to Smith Warehouse, Gutiérrez wrote. She added that the injustice seen in the process reflects the disempowerment that characterizes the position of women on Duke’s campus.

However, Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education—who first informed Scott of the change—argued that the move was not intended to undermine the Baldwin Scholars program.

“The Baldwin Scholars program is one of Duke’s most important leadership initiatives,” Bennett wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “It will continue to receive strong support from the University, and for me personally.”

But Baldwin members and alumnae alike have expressed frustration with the administration for how the process was handled—alumnae member Rachel McLaughlin, Trinity ’08, explained that though the Baldwins have a housing section on campus, the administration did not fully understand the significance and use of the office space.

“What’s frustrating is that the administration thought, ‘Oh, it’s just an office,’ but if you go in, it has a kitchen area and a living room. It’s a place where we would come to study, where we had our meetings,” McLaughlin said. “The reality is, yes, Baldwins have that space in [Few Quad], but where the Baldwins gather and hang out, especially as a [first-year student], is the office space.”

In his email, Bennett noted that “this transition will not affect the Baldwin Scholars’ space in Few Quad.” 

Without a space on East Campus, scholars expressed concern that first-year members will lose out on opportunities to become connected to the Baldwin Scholars community.

“I would go there a lot as an upperclassman, but it’s primarily a space where [first-years are] building connections,” McLaughlin said. “I think without this space, that relationship-building will suffer.” 

Gutiérrez shared similar disappointment, echoing the importance of the East Campus space in forming relationships that last throughout members’ years at Duke and beyond.

“We felt slighted as a program, as if we were being treated as collateral damage or an afterthought,” Gutiérrez said. “No one was prioritizing Baldwin or the women it represents.”

Bennett wrote that the move is part of a comprehensive effort to maximize the number of groups that have access to gathering spaces, attempting to facilitate relationship building both within and across groups.

“Now that Smith Warehouse is a center for student life, we are also making it the home for the Rubenstein Scholars program, which includes more than 130 first generation and low-income students, as well as the University Scholars,” Bennett wrote. “For the first time, all OUSF scholars programs will be located in the same space. We are committed to ensuring that all of our programs, including Baldwin, will retain their distinct identity and find new opportunities for academic and social engagement.”

Speaking to what sets Baldwin apart, McLaughlin mentioned that she never felt that the Baldwin program was integrated into the larger OUSF community.

“Baldwin was a separate program. Especially as an all-female program, it was important that we had our own living space and on East Campus our own gathering space,” McLaughlin said.

Former University President Nannerl Keohane, who oversaw the implementation of the Baldwin Scholars, has said that the program offers the unique benefits of a women’s college at a co-educational university, which includes providing a space that exclusively belongs to women. 

Gutiérrez said that as women on Duke’s campus continue to face barricades in classrooms, feel unsafe on their campus and live in the reality that 48% of their female peers face sexual violence while students at Duke, having their own office and meeting room is as important to Baldwin members as it was when they were first allocated the space.

For first-year female students entering a campus where “programs are often predatory,” Gutiérrez added, Baldwin's space on East Campus becomes a sanctuary for first-year members.

She noted that Baldwin spaces, accessible only to members of the Scholars program, are not safe spaces for all women on Duke’s campus. However, she said they want to make Baldwin more accessible to more women, but attributed its accessibility limits to resource limits for the program. 

Since the decision was first announced, Baldwin members and alumnae have taken different actions to try to bring attention to and reverse the decision. Beyond drafting the initial statement, Gutiérrez mentioned that scholars met with members of the Duke administration.

They have also been in contact with Brodie’s wife and daughter.

“They both expressed they were uncomfortable with [the move],” Gutiérrez said.

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