Duke Still Struggles With Providing Equitable Environment, Study FindsDURHAM, N.C.
A yearlong study of the status of women at Duke University has found that students, faculty, staff and graduates continue to face lingering stereotypes and prejudicial expectations about what they can accomplish.
The Women’s Initiative Steering Committee report, released last month, offers an in-depth, and sometimes troubling, picture of the lives of Duke’s undergraduates, graduate and professional students, faculty, employees, alumnae and trustees.
The report describes an undergraduate social scene in which women feel pressed to conform to powerful social norms that are often at odds with their personal educational development, and with affirming themselves as strong and distinctive people. Many employees and faculty members say they struggle to balance their work and family lives. Graduate students report widely varying experiences in terms of mentoring and communication with faculty, with some programs providing a good deal of support and others less successful in doing this. Despite growth in some areas, women continue to be underrepresented on the faculty across the university.
While acknowledging that some problems require further study and lack simple solutions, the report also calls for numerous substantive changes. Duke has already implemented a number of the recommendations — such as new paid parental leave policies for faculty and staff and the doubling of Duke’s on-campus child care center — and is following up on others.
The recommendations include providing more mentoring and professional development, improving academic advising and career counseling, and bolstering security measures on campus.
“Creating a truly co-educational university, in which women and men are equals and stereotypes are broken down so all people can flourish, will not be easy,” says Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane. “But it is a goal we can, and should, try to meet.”
Keohane, the university’s first female president and only the second woman to lead a major private U.S. research university, said the committee identified numerous problems that are not necessarily unique to Duke but still require attention.
Bernice Sandler, senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees. She says that many of the issues identified in the report are common to other colleges and universities, but added that Duke’s wide-ranging analysis stands out from similar assessments elsewhere.
According to Sandler, other colleges and universities have tended to focus on faculty and administrative issues. When they study undergraduates, she says, they typically look at the representation of women in traditionally male fields such as engineering. Duke, however, focused on how gender shapes the daily lives of men and women, Sandler says.
“President Keohane’s thoughtful and provocative analysis of the issues that Duke University is grappling with should be required reading for every college president,” she says.
The full text and key findings of the report are available at <www.duke.edu/womens_initiative>.
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