In 1987, 12 women submitted a proposal for a Duke Women’s Center.
“We envision a Women’s Center on Duke’s campus as a physical space devoted to the development of strong women,” they wrote in the proposal.
That mission remains the same for the Women’s Center 30 years later with education and outreach, activism, community building and civic engagement. This year’s anniversary’s theme is “30 Years in the Making: Conquering the Contradictions,” which alludes to female-identifying students and employees continuing to fight for equality.
“The Women’s Center serves as a space to empower and affirm the voices, the presence, the existence of female-identified students at Duke,” said Stephanie Helms Pickett, director of the Center. “We do it through a feminist lens supported by social justice and equity.”
Beginning in a cubicle in the Bryan Center, the Women’s Center now encompasses the ground floor of the Crowell Building on East Campus. The center promotes gender equity through co-curricular programming, provides services to survivors of gender-based violence and advocates on gender issues throughout the university and community.
For its anniversary, the center will host several gatherings, including a talk by Gretchen Carlson on Feb 1. and Amy Kurtz on Feb. 20. Carlson is a former Fox News Network anchor who sued the former Fox News CEO for sexual harassment. Kurtz is author of “Kicking Sick: Your Go-To Guide for Thriving with Chronic Health Conditions.” On April 14, the WomC Awards will be held to recognize outstanding contributions of women on campus, in Durham, North Carolina, and the world.
One of the Women Center’s most visible projects early on was co-hosting 10 women from the Soviet Union in 1989, before the Iron Curtain fell. The visit provided an opportunity for the groups of women to discuss issues that concerned both nationalities, like workplace equality, and how they could support one another. The Soviet women caught the making of the 1990 “The Handmaid’s Tale” as it was filmed on campus.
Women’s Center programming is open to students, staff and faculty with events covering topics around gender violence, gender identity, civic engagement and more.
“We push programming that looks at womanism and feminism in the everyday,” said Bibi Gnagno, student development coordinator. “We try to make it fun while also talking about social justice.”
Helms Pickett encourages staff and faculty, including men, to get involved in Women’s Center activities. She said it’s valuable for students to hear from staff and faculty about life and work experiences.
“They see a dimension of a woman that’s a CEO or entrepreneur and need to see the holistic side of them,” Helms Pickett said. “You can meet with them and somehow have an impact after 20 minutes. Then, they’ll show up at your door often. It certainly makes a difference.”