Alumnae Weekend

January 31, 2008
Mind-body harmony: Alumnae weekend options included yoga class, below, and keynote by integrative medicine expert Gaudet, above

Mind-body harmony: Alumnae weekend options included yoga class, below, and keynote by integrative medicine expert Gaudet, above. Les Todd

Billed as "two days of enlightenment, interaction, and reflection," the Duke Women's Health & Wellness Weekend delivered that and more to the 150 alumnae and friends who attended the campus event in October. Sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association and the Women's Center, the program featured panel discussions on women's health issues at every stage of their lives, exercise and movement instruction, and concurrent presentations on trauma, nutrition, alleviating stress, and faith and healing.

Yoga session during Alumni Weekend

Les Todd

The weekend began with panel discussions about women's leadership, followed by a kick-off luncheon featuring keynote speaker Kimberly Jenkins B.S. '76, M.Ed. '77, Ph.D. '80, a Duke trustee. "The real bottom line for women's health at Duke is about culture," she said, noting that her conversations with undergraduate women highlight the conflicting cultural pressures they feel to excel academically while adhering to strict norms of femininity.

"The gap between the idealized self and the core self means that students feel lonely and isolated even when they are in a crowd, because they are not known in a real and genuine way," she added.

Jenkins encouraged those in attendance to join her in sharing their stories with younger women and to consider forming alumnae mentorship networks that would draw inspiration from such initiatives as Northwestern University's Council of 100 or the Women's Vision Foundation's WiseWomen Council.

On Saturday morning, Tracey Gaudet '84, M.D. '91, director of Duke Integrative Medicine, delivered a keynote speech about the role that health plays in physical, sexual, mental, and spiritual well-being. In the afternoon, President Richard H. Brodhead presented an update on the Women's Initiative, a project launched by Brodhead's predecessor, Nannerl O. Keohane. The initiative launched a series of efforts—parental-leave policies, expanded child-care options, mentoring, equitable hiring and pay practices for female faculty members—designed to improve the campus experiences for women throughout the Duke community.

"When Duke finishes enumerating the things that have been done in the past five years, you have to stop and say that is impressive and that is important, but you can't stop and say that the problem is solved," Brodhead said. "I can only offer you a sense that we have worked hard. But that is our obligation, to continue to work hard on these issues."

Brodhead shared information about the President's Council on Women, which is responsible for developing  initiatives such as professional-development opportunities for junior faculty members, the continued study of undergraduate campus culture, and educational summits that would bring together graduate and professional students, faculty members, alumni, and members of the local community.

The Women's Initiative session also included comments from Donna Lisker, associate dean of undergraduate education and the former director of the Women's Center at Duke, and Sterly Wilder '83, executive director of alumni affairs. Wilder discussed a new alumnae steering committee that was set up for the women's wellness weekend and will be in place to suggest future programs to engage alumnae. The DAA will also survey alumnae about other campus weekend programs for women. Existing regional clubs programs, such as the Women's Forum in Washington and New York, could be replicated in other cities.