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Men become equity allies for women on campus

Men become equity allies for women on campus

Teri Rizvi September 18, 2019

As young faculty members, Danielle Poe and Caroline Merithew Waldron remember walking together to class from nearby South Park neighborhood, deep in conversation about what's still an elephant in the room in higher education — gender equity.

Today, 16 years later, they're part of a highly visible campuswide effort to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for women. And they're engaging their male colleagues in the effort.

"As a white male, I don't look like the poster child for equity work," said Jon Hess, drawing a laugh at a Women's Advisory Council meeting this summer for the UD Men for Gender Equity Initiative.

"But equity work is everyone's concern," added the associate dean for faculty scholarship, internationalization and inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences who is now part of a planning team organizing training workshops. The focus: information sharing about the initiative with men and women and recruitment of men who will serve as proponents for gender equity in their departments and units.

This is part of a national effort on college campuses, developed by North Dakota State University (NDSU) through funding by the National Science Foundation. 

But it’s only one part of a multi-pronged strategy at UD, where President Eric F. Spina announced at the fall faculty and staff meetings that a President’s Commission on the Status of Women will be formed later in September to advise him about ways to better support women on campus.

Real change often starts at the grassroots level. That’s why Laura Bistrek, executive director of the Diversity in Engineering Center, brought the NDSU team to campus in January in an effort to proactively engage men as potential allies and advocates for their female colleagues. Over two days, 166 faculty and staff — men and women — attended sessions that explored research on gender equity issues and offered a forum for women to share their experiences. Men far outnumbered the women at these sessions. 

Over the spring, 30 men attended workshops on “Unpacking Campus Climate: A Deeper Dive into the AIM4 Community Excellence Survey Findings Related to Gender,” and another 20 participated in a “Caregiving and the Challenges of Work-Life Balance Panel.” The Women’s Center also hosted a well-attended community forum on the climate for women at UD that was tailored for women faculty and staff. 

After the workshops, the vast majority of men — more than 90 % — said their knowledge of unconscious gender bias and its impact on the campus climate increased after the sessions and expressed their personal commitment to addressing issues of gender bias and discrimination experienced by women faculty.

That’s what organizers of the UD Men for Gender Equity Initiative wanted to hear.

“We cannot advance gender equity without engaging men in this initiative, too,” said Lisa Borello, director of the Women’s Center.