Linda Fried says the challenge in addressing a
potentially thorny and sensitive issue such as gender
inequality is both a simple and daunting one: How do you
get people to talk about it?
Fried says the ability to add equal amounts of
patience, diligence and understanding may not be the
absolute answer, but it's a good place to start.
One year since it convened, the University Committee
on the Status of Women, which Fried chairs, continues to
lay the groundwork in its effort to assess the state of
gender equality at Johns Hopkins.
Fried, a professor with joint appointments at the
of Medicine and the
Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the
Center on Aging and Health, says the committee's first
full year has been a productive one. She cites an increased
membership, the creation of an organizational structure,
the accumulation of case studies and the initiation of an
open dialogue on women's issues.
"We have been very active this past year, working
diligently to lay the groundwork to determine what the
underlying causes are for serious gender-based obstacles
that exist throughout the university," Fried says. "With
the help of both men and women here at Johns Hopkins, we
hope in the coming months to learn of all problems people
face due to gender."
Previously known as the Provost's Committee on the
Status of Women, the group was reconstituted in September
2002 with a new structure and leadership. "We wanted to
give the universitywide committee a more independent voice
and strengthen its ability to champion the entire community
of women at Johns Hopkins," says Provost Steven Knapp.
The group is charged with studying the needs of women
in the university community and examining and making
recommendations on such issues as diversity, salary equity
and advancement. Fried says one particular issue that needs
to be addressed is the continued underrepresentation of
woman on the faculty, particularly in academic leadership
In addition, the group — made up of faculty,
staff and students, both women and men — educates the
community about women's issues.
Last fall, membership nominations were solicited from
all constituents of the Hopkins community. (Additional
nominees are still being sought; see "Committee nominations
due Oct. 6," below.) In April, five working groups were
formed, each of them assigned either a specific segment of
the population or a research function. They are:
Case History, chaired by Veena
Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology in the
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Organizational Culture and
Leadership, chaired by Loretta Hoepfner, an administrative
assistant in the School of Medicine's Department of
Faculty, chaired by Francesca
Dominici, an associate professor in the Biostatistics
Department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Students, chaired by Ed
Scheinerman, chair of the Department of Mathematical
Sciences and interim associate dean for academic affairs at
the Whiting School of Engineering.
Staff, initially chaired by Judy
Kilpatrick, director of information systems for the
university's Financial Information Services, who recently
had to step down due to other commitments. A new chair will
be announced soon.
The committee's design was modeled after the
Leadership Council, whose mission is to recommend and
promote policies, programs and other initiatives that will
attract and retain a diverse mix of faculty, staff and
Fried says the committee is still in the fact-finding,
or assessment, phase. By year's end, it plans to draft a
report to include preliminary findings and possibly a list
of proposed recommendations and intervention strategies.
To get to that point, Fried says the group needs to
assemble a wealth of facts and figures, interspersed with
Veena Das, a pre-eminent anthropological researcher on
woman's issues, says her group is focused on collecting
stories and experiences from both men and women at Johns
Hopkins. To date, the group has conducted 14 case
"We are concerned about all the possible ways that
gender might manifest itself in everyday life here at Johns
Hopkins," Das says. "We are trying to develop a long
narrative that will capture the experience for women here
at Johns Hopkins, and then use this insight to create a
module for interventions."
Fried says that while many have been forthcoming,
there is still a level of hesitation when people are asked
to come forward and relate their experiences.
"That is why I want to stress that all the information
we gather will be held confidential. Our message from day
one has been that we will use all the stories and facts
that we gather and merge them into one tapestry, so as not
to divulge where any one of these accounts came from," she
says. "We will be extremely careful about that and are very
sensitive to these concerns."
Another part of the group's message is that instances
of gender inequality are hardly unique to Johns Hopkins
and, more often than not, are unintentional.
"We know the same problems are found at every
university in this country. In fact, to a certain extent,
issues of gender inequality are still part of the social
fabric," she says. "A good portion of American history is
all about disenfranchised or minority groups seeking the
rights and hopes that the majority or enfranchised group
has. This committee's work is certainly not about an
indictment of the current state of gender equality at
Hopkins. We are more about creating models that will set
even higher standards for this university and afford equal
opportunity for everybody. I know the senior leadership
here takes this very seriously."
Fried says the university's leadership has been
willing both to recognize that there are problems and to
try to lead the development of solutions.
President William R. Brody says the university is
"extremely committed" to gender equity and the need to
change the organizational structure as necessary to
eliminate problems that women experience.
"The senior administration and I are in full support
of this effort to address any semblance of gender
inequality at Johns Hopkins, and of the need to confront
these issues head on," Brody says. "I encourage women here
to talk and share their experiences with those on the
committee. It is important that we first define exactly
what the issues are, so that we can adequately address
Fried says the committee is still in the process of
soliciting membership and case stories. To volunteer, or to
send questions or comments, contact Ray Gillian, assistant
provost and director of the
Office of Equal
Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs, at