With a goal to enlighten, encourage, empower, but also enrage women on college campuses, Women in Higher Education (WiHE) attempts to evoke a visceral response from its monthly newsletter readers to motivate them to take action.
“I think we can get angry over injustice, and that motivates us to act,” says WiHE Editor Kelly Baker, PhD. “We can use those kinds of emotions to get people interested and invested in initiatives in ways they might not have been otherwise.”
Rather than actively leading change efforts, the newsletter aims to inspire women to transform the higher education environment for themselves and other female students, faculty, staff, and administrators. “[In the newsletter,] they learn about structural sexism and that this isn’t about individuals, but about changing campus cultures,” says Baker
Founded in 1992, WiHE publishes a mix of feature stories, profiles, opinion pieces, and advice regarding the struggles women face at all levels of higher education. Many of the issues that led to WiHe’s founding still persist today, Baker says, such as the gender pay and leadership gaps, sexual assault and harassment, and the lack of women in the STEM pipeline. But more than just pointing out the inequities that exist, WiHE reports on the ways in which women are working to overcome them and provides best practices to aid them in these efforts.
“We profile amazing women who are leading different initiatives … to show that women are surviving and thriving despite all of the problems we talk about,” says Baker. “I hope the women who read [the newsletter] realize they’re not alone in some of these struggles regarding sexism and gender inequality … and recognize that despite these [issues], women are doing well in higher education — that there are those who are remarkably successful and who are changing the cultures of their campuses.”
Since joining WiHE as editor in September 2016, Baker has been leading efforts to move beyond “lean-in” feminism, which emphasizes individual as opposed to collective improvements for women. Through their articles, Baker and her five staff writers — who all have a background in higher education — take an intersectional approach to feminism.
“We are looking at the intersections of identity, thinking about how race complicates how we talk about women in higher education and how sexuality complicates this. All these things matter,” she says. “I am really interested in how campuses are making places better for all [women].”
Baker hopes that through this new focus on intersectionality, WiHE will shift toward more of an advocacy and activism role for women in higher education. And in reporting on exemplary initiatives and best practices, one of her goals is to show how easily they can be replicated. “These are things you can adopt at your school; it’s not reinvent-the-wheel activism,” says Baker. “There are ways to navigate this that don’t require completely coming up with a program on your own. [There are] places doing good work — pay attention to and borrow from them.”
One the most significant factors driving Baker’s work is the belief that “we can always make higher education better,” she says. Yet some naysayers question whether it’s possible to truly transform the institutional culture at colleges and universities — a notion that Baker is attempting to quash.
“I think there’s power in saying that we can speak up about the inequalities that happen on our campuses,” she says. “We are not stuck in the system that we’re in — we can change it.”●
Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information, visit wihe.com.