The University Record, February 20, 1995

President briefs RAs on Women's Agenda, solicits input

By Mary Jo Frank
Record Special Writer

Campus safety, classroom climate and the need for more women faculty to serve as role models for students were a few of the concerns raised by residence hall staff during a one-hour dialogue with President James J. Duderstadt last Monday.

More than 200 resident advisers and resident directors attended the town meeting held in the Michigan Union Ballroom.

Noting that residence hall staff play a key role in the University's living/learning environment, the president briefly outlined the goals of the Michigan Agenda for Women and asked the residence hall staff for advice on how to reach the agenda's goals.

The Michigan Agenda for Women, launched last spring, calls for the U-M to become the leader among American universities in promoting the success of women faculty, students and staff of diverse backgrounds by the year 2000.

Goals include:

• Creating a climate that fosters the success of women faculty, students and staff;

• Achieving full representation, participation and success of women faculty in the academic life and leadership of the University;

• Making the U-M the institution of choice for women students who aspire to leadership roles;

• Making the U-M the employer of choice for women staff who seek satisfying and rewarding careers and providing opportunities for women staff who seek leadership roles; and

• Making the University the leading institution for the study of women and gender issues.

Perspectives vary on the need for change, depending on who you talk to, Duderstadt said. Some faculty and administrators believe that the U-M doesn't have a problem in terms of representation or climate for women.

He disagrees, noting that fewer than 9 percent of the senior faculty are women and that women are underrepresented in leadership positions at the U-M.

Surveys of prospective students who chose not to come to the U-M indicate some parents think the U-M is a tough place for young women and prefer to send their daughters to smaller campuses, Duderstadt added.

Several audience members talked about a lack of women faculty, particularly women of color, as role models. One senior said she has had only one instructor who was a woman of color and asked what the University is doing to recruit more women.

Duderstadt said the administration is offering incentives to departments to hire women of color and strong disincentives if they don't.

"Women of color face double jeopardy" due to race and gender, acknowledged Duderstadt, who has met with women of color and members of the Women of Color Task Force to discuss the Michigan Agenda for Women.

In addition to recruiting more women of color, Duderstadt said, the University must provide mentoring and support so that women achieve success and stay.

"Simply opening doors is not enough," he said.

One African American woman said women students of color often are not taken seriously in the classroom or their work is more carefully scrutinized than that of classmates.

A number of women in the audience mentioned safety issues, including large evergreens around campus buildings, and poor lighting on campus and on adjacent streets in Ann Arbor.

In response to safety concerns, Duderstadt said, the University Parking Service is offering free parking in many parking structures during evening hours for men and women students. Additional lighting is being installed and a new task force also has been charged to address violence against women on campus.

One woman said as a new student she was impressed with the Night Owl bus service and SafeWalk and NorthWalk escort services but now thinks they need to start earlier in the evening, particularly during the winter, when it gets dark early.

Adrienne Meyer, a resident adviser at East Quadrangle, suggested the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) be given more time to present its programs at Orientation. Resident hall staff bring SAPAC counselors into the residence halls for programs during the school year, but by that time, often the damage has already been done, Meyer said. Students need to get the kinds of information SAPAC offers early, she added.

Allison Cook, who is also an East Quadrangle resident adviser, said the University and residence hall staff need to create an environment that is emotionally and physically safe for students. Residence hall educational programs need to be more than cultural exchanges, she said. They should be well thought out and focus on survival issues for students, Cook added.

Thanking the residence hall staff members for their comments, Duderstadt invited them to continue the dialogue. He suggested a follow-up meeting or that they send their comments and concerns to him through electronic mail.