Why Women's Research, Policy and Advocacy Centers?
The kernel for this project addressing diversity in women’s research, policy and advocacy centers grew out of a project completed in 2006, entitled Leadership in Higher Education: A Path to Greater Racial and Gender Diversity . Funded by the Ford Foundation, that project studied the impact of leadership on diversity at eight institutions of higher education. Among its findings was an insight central to the rationale for this new project: that is, that women’s studies and research centers can and do serve as special sites for diversifying their communities and attracting, supporting, and advancing women of color and other underrepresented populations.
With their basic focus on women – a historically disadvantaged group in higher education, although one which now frequently constitutes a majority of students on campus – women’s research and study centers have a deep theoretical commitment to diversity writ large. Their interdisciplinary approach encourages intellectual diversity, and they provide opportunities for cross-fertilization and collaboration across traditionally siloed academic departments. They often serve as sites for the advising and mentoring of students and faculty who do not find such support within their departments, and they can provide avenues for new leadership to arise. Because the centers often focus on issues beyond traditional academics, they provide opportunities for addressing questions of campus climate, community relations, and larger societal issues including access and social justice. Their research on pedagogy and curricula, and their collaborations with outside community groups, expand thinking about the substance of academic programs and learning, and invite new voices and perspectives into research and academic work.
In order to address the need to bring more women of color into leadership positions in women’s scholarship, advocacy and research, the Council undertook a two-year program to develop successful pilot programs that could be used as models by other centers to increase their diversity at all levels. Thanks to Ford Foundation funding, the Council was able to award 6 grants from among 15 applicants: 5 grants of $8,000 which were matched by the centers’ home institutions to plan and implement a program to encourage women of color within their centers; and one $2,000 grant to support an institutional self-analysis of the extent of diversity in the center as well as barriers to and possible strategies for change.
As a first step in the project, an expert advisory committee that included experts on diversity issues, institutional change, and women’s research and advocacy, was convened, under the leadership of Beverly Guy-Sheftall . The Committee was charged with overseeing the Request for Proposals and the awarding of the grants, serving as mentors and role models for project participants, and helping to ensure that the strategies employed and lessons learned were shared with appropriate constituents.