The Women's Center, the Commission on the Status of Women,
and the Women's Studies Program:
UofL's Commitment to Gender Equity

By Robin Harris
Public Services Librarian, Law Library

As the University of Louisville strives to make the campus a secure and welcoming place for students, staff, and faculty,Administative Annex, UofL three distinct entities are working to make sure that the concerns of women are front and center. Whether your interests lie in the steps UofL is taking to stop domestic violence, the courses you must take to earn a Certificate in Women's Studies, or in the progress UofL has made in pay equity for women, the Women's Center, the Women's Studies Program, or the Commission on the Status of Women can provide the answers. While all three deal with issues related to women, each has a distinct mission. The problem is that many people are confused about the purposes and goals of each group. How are they alike and how are they different? Think of the three units as branches of a tree: one a programming branch, one an academic branch, and one a planning and policy branch. The connection that binds them together is the goal of gender equity. (Photo to the right is the Administrative Annex, home of the Women's center and the Commission on the Status of Women.)

In honor of Women's History Month, here is a brief guide to the Women's Center, the Women's Studies Program, and the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Women's Center
Founded October, 1991
Located in the Administrative Annex
Mary Karen Powers, Director

In the words of its director, “the Women's Center is the programmatic arm of UofL's outreach to women. Our mission is to promote equality, to increase women's self-reliance, and to heighten the understanding of women's contributions to all cultures and societies.” The Center accomplishes its mission in a variety of creative and exciting ways. Since its founding in 1991, the Center has sponsored or co-sponsored hundreds of activities at UofL and the surrounding community since Powers became director in August 1999, the Center has worked to provide an array of activities and events. Powers and her staff of one full-time staff member, one part-time staff member, one student coordinator, and four work-study students have:

From the federal grant sprang the highly successful P.E.A.C.C. Program. Run by State Representative Joni Jenkins, P.E.A.C.C. stands for Prevention, Education, and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community. Its mission is to develop a pro-active approach to addressing violence against women at UofL. The grant money runs out June 30, 2001; renewal efforts are under way to continue the important work begun by this program.

For details on P.E.A.C.C. and other programs and events sponsored by the Women's Center, visit their web site at visit their web site at

Women's Studies Program
Founded 1973
Undergraduate Major Available since Fall, 1995
Located in 300 Patterson Hall
Dr. Nancy M. Theriot, Chair

While the Women's Center is the programming branch, Women's Studies is the academic branch. As part of the College of Arts and Sciences, Women's Studies (WS) contributes to UofL's liberal arts curriculum through interdisciplinary scholarship on women. Originally created to eliminate gender bias in the curriculum, Women's Studies offers interdisciplinary major and minor programs, including a minor in race and gender studies in cooperation with the Department of Pan-African Studies, and an interdisciplinary graduate certificate and a non-degree interdisciplinary certificate. UofL offers the only women's studies major in Kentucky.

Students benefit from a diverse faculty of more than fifty and may choose courses from a wide range of disciplines, including anthropology, history, Pan-African studies, philosophy, political science, psychology, and theatre arts. Besides students in A&S, Women's Studies courses are also open to students in the Speed Scientific School, the School of Education, and the Graduate School.

Although its focus is teaching and research, Women's Studies also hosts special programs every year. In the fall WS offers an annual lecture series that students can take as a one-hour credit course. In the spring during Women's History Month, WS hosts many events [] including the Minx Auerbach Lecture in Women's Studies (this year featuring noted feminist biologist Ruth Hubbard) and a keynote address by a nationally known speaker (this year featuring writer Nikki Giovanni).

For more information about courses, degree programs, or special events, visit

President's Commission on the Status of Women
Founded 1995
Located in the Administrative Annex
Denise McKnight, Chair

In 1993 UofL President Donald Swain created a task force to assess the status of women at the University and to make recommendations to improve this status. From this group of 14 women and 5 men, all UofL employees, came the Report of the Task Force on the Status of Women. High on the Task Force's list of recommendations was that: “The President shall establish a permanent Commission on Women. The Commission shall be administratively attached to the President's Office and the head of this Commission shall serve as an active member of the President's staff.”

President Swain created the Commission in 1995 to monitor UofL's progress in eliminating gender-based inequities and to serve as his chief policy advisor on gender equity issues. The Commission has continued its work under President John Shumaker's leadership, addressing pay equity for female staff and faculty, implementing the “Little Cardinals” day care program, overseeing a mentoring program, and establishing a successful series of projects on women and global issues.

Current Chair Denise McKnight explains that the group “serves as advisor to the President and the Executive Cabinet on issues of gender equity. We monitor and assess the units on campus based on how each is implementing the recommendations set forth in the 1994 Task Force Report.” The Commission has 28 members appointed by the President, representing many units, plus 7 ex-officio members, including the Director of the Women's Center, the Chair of Women's Studies, the Chair of the Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality (CODRE), and the Senior Woman Administrator from Athletics.

While the Commission has improved conditions for women at UofL in its six-year life, much remains to be done. Sexual harassment and other hostile environment issues, the low number of women of color in faculty and senior-level administrative university positions, and the clustering of women of color in lower level positions are ongoing concerns.

For more information about the COSW and a list of current members, visit

The good news, then, for Women's History Month 2001 is the very existence of the Women's Center, the only Women's Studies major in Kentucky, and the President's Commission on the Status of Women, each of which shows the University's ongoing commitment to gender equity. The even better news is the extraordinary level of cooperation among the three that suggests a bright future for women at UofL.