Between the Lines: March-April 2005

March 31, 2005

 

In the fall of 2003, the Women's Initiative Committee--launched, and chaired, by then-President Nannerl O. Keohane--issued its final report. At the time, psychology professor Susan Roth, chair of the Women's Initiative executive committee, said: "We present this report not only with the aim of improving the climate for women at Duke, but also to improve the experience for all who work or study here.... Our Women's Initiative set out to assess and, when necessary, ameliorate the situation of women, but in so doing we have developed a more sophisticated awareness of the ways in which we need to support the work of all members of our community."

The report noted that "women expressed concerns about campus safety, feeling ambivalent about the need for protection from assaults by their peers." Among undergraduates, both men and women "expressed dissatisfaction with the dating scene (or lack thereof)."

This issue's cover story gives a human face to those findings. It points to the national scope of the problem; among the many disturbing statistics is that 70,000 college students last year were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault. The story also portrays a campus attacking the problem through many avenues, including student publications, public demonstrations, and a strengthened sexual-misconduct policy.

When the Women's Initiative report was released, Bernice Sandler, senior scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, celebrated the wide-ranging look at how gender shapes the daily lives of men and women. "These concerns are certainly not exclusive to Duke," she observed.

Discussions of sexual assault, and enhanced support services, point to a campus that is strong enough to be constructively self-critical--and nimble enough to respond to the criticism. The concerns aren't exclusive to Duke, but Duke is setting a standard for addressing them.