On Saturday, Nov. 7, the nation learned that a graduate of Howard University, Kamala Harris, will become the highest-ranking woman in American history when she assumes the vice presidency next January. It’s also a remarkable milestone for the 153-year-old HBCU, which already counts among its extensive cadre of accolades and esteemed alumni one Schwarzman Scholar, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 11 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients—in addition to producing more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States.
But the addition of the first female vice president proved the harbinger of a new era in Howard’s legacy as an incubator for female leaders; on Thursday, university President Wayne A. I. Frederick announced a $1 million gift from Heather and Jim Murren to launch the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership.
Per a release from Howard provided to The Glow Up:
The gift kicks off a multi-million fundraising effort for what will be an interdisciplinary, student-centered, faculty-led institute that works with professional programs in health, business, communications and law, as well as majors in the arts and sciences.
The Center will be led by J. Jarpa Dawuni, Esq., Ph.D., Howard’s esteemed associate professor of political science, who has been recognized as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar and a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow. The Center’s academic focus will include producing innovative and theoretically grounded research and creating a data center on issues of women and gender in the United States and the global Black diaspora. The Center will provide opportunities for students through scholarships and internships. Additionally, the program will match students with high-impact women leaders, entrepreneurs, industry experts, policymakers and social justice advocates for mentorship and sponsorship opportunities.
“The vision of the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership is to prepare future leaders who are gender-conscious and grounded in Black feminist consciousness through collaboration with faculty on research, service learning and global engagement,” Dr. Dawuni explained in a statement. “The career pipeline project will act as a transformational strategy for opening up professional opportunities and preparing our students for leadership in their chosen careers.”
According to the release, Dr. Dawuni’s vision for the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership includes four areas of focus: student-centered teaching and learning; high-impact faculty research, publications and grant-making; community-centered service learning; and global advocacy. Recognizing the potential impact of a center dedicated to cultivating future generations of female leaders. Trustee Jim Murren and Heather Murren issued the following statement:
We cannot overstate the importance of advancing Black women’s leadership at this moment in history. Facing a global pandemic, a severe economic downturn and a renewed societal focus on racial injustice, the country is facing a critical inflection point. To secure our national economy and ensure our future prosperity, we have to promote female leadership and ensure women’s equal representation across all sectors of our society. Women already represent a significant and growing proportion of the labor force and a vocal component of civic life. This gift seeks to capture that energy, develop this exceptional talent pool and push our country forward, with women at the helm. Under the transcendent leadership of President Frederick, Howard has become a widely influential institution that is uniquely positioned to develop the next generation of leaders. With Dr. Dawuni’s guidance, we will work to bring this Center to life and realize the vision behind it. As lifetime investors of Howard, we know that the returns on this investment will be exceptional for Black women and for our country as a whole as we move past these challenging times.
For at least one current Howard student of Dr. Dawuni who was present at the announcement, the Center’s intended focus also holds promise for broader and more holistic understanding and perspectives; not only of feminist thought but of gender and intersectionality, on the whole.
“Many times, we overlook the complexity gender has in relation to the experience of identifying as women while interacting with different cultural backgrounds and identities,” said Anyah Gilmore-Jones, a senior political science major. “Gender is often conflated with the simplistic concept of being only ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine.’ The establishment of this Center will promote the expansion of knowledge, critical thinking, organizing, and the learning of global perspectives on feminist and gender issues.”
A date for the opening of the center has yet to be scheduled, as fundraising efforts continue. “We are extremely grateful to Trustee Jim Murren and Mrs. Heather Hay Murren for this generous $1 million gift to create the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership at Howard University,” said President Frederick. “Our students’ college experiences will be significantly enriched through this program, which will empower Black women to continue to take their rightful place as leaders in every facet of our society and the global community,”