A prominent “reverse discrimination” activist filed a federal complaint Wednesday evening against Duke’s Alice M. Baldwin Scholars program, alleging that the program for female-identifying students violates Title IX provisions.
Mark Perry, an emeritus professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the University of Michigan–Flint, has been filing federal civil rights complaints against U.S. colleges and universities alleging “reverse discrimination” under Title IX and Title VI for seven years.
The Baldwin Scholars program aims to inspire and support “female-identified undergraduate students to become engaged, confident and connected leaders in the Duke community and beyond” through first-year and senior seminars, networking, preprofessional opportunities and a stipend for living expenses for a summer internship experience.
In his complaint filed with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, Perry says that the program violates federal laws by excluding non-female students based on sex and gender identity, which are protected under Title IX.
Once filed, OCR complaints are evaluated to determine if the complaint requires further processing, and then if OCR can investigate the complaint. If the OCR decides to investigate a complaint, it will act as a “neutral fact-finder” and conclude if the recipient failed to comply with the law based on its findings.
Perry wrote in an email sent to the University’s general counsel and obtained by The Chronicle, that he has filed over 864 federal complaints against U.S. colleges and universities alleging over 2,000 Title VI and Title IX violations. As of July, the OCR has opened over 375 investigations into his complaints and resolved 345 of these investigations, “mostly to his satisfaction.”
Perry’s complaint highlighted several descriptions of the Baldwin Scholars program from its website, such as how it hopes to “positively influence the culture for undergraduate women at Duke” and how the program “inspires and supports female-identified undergraduate students.”
In operating “exclusively for female students,” Perry’s argues that the Baldwin Scholars Program “illegally excludes and discriminates against non-female students based on their sex and gender identity.”
In a separate email obtained by The Chronicle, Perry wrote to Pamela Bernard, Duke’s vice president and general counsel, that the Baldwin Scholars program also violates the University’s discrimination policy by discriminating against students’ gender, gender expression, gender identity and sex.
“Sex-based discrimination is still unlawful even if it advantages the ‘right’ sex for the ‘right’ reason,” Perry wrote in his email to Bernard. “It is a clear violation of Title IX that Duke University, a recipient of federal funds, is illegally excluding certain students from the Alice M. Baldwin Scholars Program and discriminating against them based on their sex, gender and gender identity.”
Frank Tramble, vice president of communication, marketing and public affairs wrote that Duke cannot comment directly on active legal complaints.
“More broadly, we support all women in their efforts to be engaged, confident, and connected student leaders in the Duke community and beyond, and we will continue to do so in compliance with the law,” he added.
For Ruthie Kesri, a senior and a Baldwin Scholar, the news of the complaint came as a “complete shock,” when Colleen Scott, director of the Baldwin Scholars program, sent an email to Baldwin Scholars informing them about the complaint Thursday morning.
“I just found out about [the complaint] today and have ZERO idea what this will mean or how it will play out,” Scott wrote in the email obtained by The Chronicle. Scott declined to comment further on the complaint.
Senior Laura Boyle, also a Baldwin Scholar, noted that the complaint has been “on all of our minds,” from conversations in group chats to discussions in the Baldwin Scholars’ senior seminar.
Boyle noted that the Baldwin Scholars program has provided her with resources that have helped her navigate male-dominated fields with more confidence and self-awareness.
“I think that's important, that [a campus] not only becomes more diverse, but also becomes more supportive of their diverse community that they bring here. And so it's programs like Baldwin that really do that,” Boyle said. “Having a place like Baldwin, where I can talk openly and vulnerably, about the issues that I've faced, or the things that I'm afraid of, or the things that I'm excited for … It's Baldwin that provides me with the space and the community to do so. And it is so frightening to think that people are trying to take that away from us.”
The Baldwin Scholars program was founded in response to results from the Women's Initiative, a 2003 study that found that Duke undergraduate women felt a pressure to be “effortlessly perfect” and that younger graduates lost confidence while they were at Duke.
Hana Hendi, Trinity ‘23 and a Baldwin Scholar while she was an undergraduate, said that she would have been in that percentage of female-identifying students who lost confidence while at Duke, if not for the Baldwin Scholars program.
“These [programs for women] are necessary for us to be empowered to be at the same level as men in the workplace, and only then can you really see true equality,” she said. “It's quite tiring to feel like we can't even have a space that we can call home, that we can empower each other, that we can help each other be working and thriving professionals like in the future.”
Previous complaints against Duke
This isn’t the first time Perry has filed complaints with the University. Perry is also a member of Do No Harm, a nonprofit group dedicated to opposing diversity initiatives in medicine.
Perry filed Title IX complaints against Duke for participating in the Perry Initiative’s Medical Student Outreach Program, which offers “a hands-on introduction to the field of orthopedic surgery for women in medical school.”
During the OCR’s investigation, the University changed its initial advertising encouraging women or nonbinary students to participate to include students “of any gender” and encouraged all “current medical students” in the area to attend. Duke also indicated that the outreach event “was open to all students regardless of sex and that both male and female participants attended.”
“The April MSOP workshop event at Duke was the first of 450 outreach Perry Initiative events in more than a decade that was open to students of all gender identities and not restricted to only female medical or high school students,” according to Do No Harm’s website.
Perry also filed a separate Title IX complaint with the OCR against Duke’s Black Men in Medicine initiative, which aims to “aims to develop and support the needs of black male faculty, students, trainees and learners in the School of Medicine.” The OCR opened the complaint for investigation in May.
Kesri anticipates that the complaint will have “broader implications” not only for women’s programs and awards, but also for programs supporting LGBTQ+ students, given that Title IX now bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“If this [complaint is] successful, people might start targeting people of color, LGBT people, in a similar manner,” Boyle said. “If that becomes acceptable, I truly am scared for what that means for you know, women in college, gay people in college, all different people in college who have had to grapple with all these obstacles.”
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Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.