Built with the mission to provide a global center focused on research specifically catered to Black women, Howard University launched the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership.
On Oct. 20, room 220 of the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library became home to the center. With core values of resilience, excellence, integrity and service, their work will focus on health and wellness; law and social justice; science and technology; politics and public policy and entrepreneurship.
While the center seeks to serve all women in the diaspora, it will have perks specifically for Howard women and students, such as the student ambassador program, undergraduate and graduate fellowships, and a new minor in women, gender and sexuality studies.
The idea for the center was proposed by Dr. Josephine Dawuni, an associate professor of political science at the university. She received $1 million in funding for the center from Howard University trustee Jim Murren and his wife, Heather Murren. The growing conversation around Black women’s leadership, political activism and ability to institute change in 2020 motivated their donation.
“When founding the center, my family and I saw an opportunity to invest in women of color and their crucial position within our community as leaders, as scholars and as torchbearers of change we so desperately need in our society,” Jim Murren said.
The center comes at a historic moment in Howard University women’s history. Alumna Kamala Harris—whose birthday was the same day as this event—is now the vice president of the United States, the first woman and person of color to hold that position. Additionally, there are currently 10 women serving as deans amongst Howard’s 14 different schools and colleges, and the 61st administration of the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) is the third administration to have women in both the president and vice president positions.
Echoing the center’s goal of being a place of global excellence, Epsy Campbell Barr, the vice president of the Republic of Costa Rica and the first woman of color to serve in her position, made a virtual appearance at the inauguration.
“With this launch, we are giving voice to thousands of women to build [a] democratic, equitable… multicultural society free of discrimination, racism, racial discrimination, sexism and exclusion,” Vice President Barr said, “Please count… my support for this initiative.”
The inauguration ceremony included performances by women members of Howard Players, the nation’s oldest Black collegiate theatre organization. Halfway through the event, Howard Players member Jazmyn Roberson performed a monologue from “Klymnestra: an Epic Slam Poem,” accompanied by fellow member Trinity Edwards who performed an original lyrical dance. At the end of the ceremony, Zian Lane, the vice president of Howard Players, performed Whitney Houston’s version of “I’m Every Woman,” in a call and response with the audience.
The Howard Players were grateful to have been a part of the historic occasion. Lane explained why she was particularly excited to be a part of the inauguration and why she thinks the center is important for the university.
“This is, I think, a very big historical moment for Howard to be launching this center,” Lane said. “This school has the capability to produce amazing women, amazing leaders, so we might as well make a center for it to just make sure we continue within that same pattern,” she continued.
The keynote speaker of the inauguration was Thasunda Brown Duckett, the president and CEO of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA). Brown Duckett was introduced by James Rhee, the John H. Johnson endowed chair and entrepreneurship professor at Howard. Following her introduction, Brown Duckett engaged in a fireside chat with Dr. Tashni Ann-Dubroy, the vice president and COO of Howard University.
In their chat, Brown Duckett discussed her journey to business and being one of three Black women who have been CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, along with diversity, equity and inclusion in corporate America. She also shared advice for Howard students.
“What I would say to the young people is to remember that your title is rented, your character is owned. Show up with your character,” Brown Duckett said, “You need to be your unapologetic self as a leader … you don’t always conform to norms that did not include us… don’t discount empathy.”
Dubroy and Dawuni awarded Brown Duckett with the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership’s inaugural Global Leadership of Women award, an award that will be given annually to a woman who represents the center’s values.
Other speakers at this event included College of Arts and Sciences Dean Rubin Patterson, Provost and Chief Academic Officer Anthony Wutoh and President Wayne A.I. Frederick, who made a virtual appearance. Refreshments were served following closing remarks by Dr. Dawuni.
Copy edited by: N’dia Webb