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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 22, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 4
The Topic: Gender Inequality

Committee on Status of Women begins open dialogue

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 School 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 roles.

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 Medicine.

Faculty, chaired by Francesca Dominici, an associate professor in the Biostatistics Department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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 university's Diversity 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 students.

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 personal accounts.

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 histories.

"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 them."

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 410-516-8075.

Committee Nominations Due October 6

The Johns Hopkins University Committee on the Status of Women has extended until Monday, Oct. 6, its solicitation for nominations for new members.

The committee of women and men acts as an advocate for the entire community of women — faculty, staff and students — at Johns Hopkins and advises the provost on issues related to women, gender and diversity.

Self-nominations as well as those by others are encouraged; all should include a short biography and a statement of why the nominee should be appointed.

Applications should be addressed to "University Committee on the Status of Women" and submitted to Ray Gillian, Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action programs, 130 Garland, Homewood campus.


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