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Notre Dame to establish institute on women's issues


The College of Notre Dame said yesterday that it would establish a permanent series of seminars and lectures to help women in Central Maryland reach their potential in family, spiritual and professional life.

Beginning next month, the college will expand its niche in women's education to include a new Women's Institute that will offer programs on the major issues, concerns and frustrations confronting women today. The goal is to help women work with each other and authorities in various fields to discover new models and ways of thinking about work and family life.

After a heated debate, the institute's founders agreed that men can join in the discussions, too. "They are welcome," Notre Dame President Sister Kathleen Feeley said.

The undertaking by the 96-year-old women's college would be one of a handful of its kind in the country to help women chart their lives at a time when issues of work, power and responsibility are being rethought and refashioned by a post-women's liberation generation. It is common for colleges to research women's issues and offer degree programs in women's studies, but few have sought out women who are looking for a way to improve their lives "without taking a three-credit course," the president said.

The programs are designed for those who "are trying to be women of character and principle in a society where character and principle are not viewed as important, and they don't seem to know how to do it," Sister Kathleen said.

Seminars and lectures are expected to center around five broad themes identified by women in discussions with college leaders -- the family, the workplace, career plans and choices, social issues and spirituality, or the development and nurturing of the self without regard to a particular religion. In practice, the institute is intended to be a place where women can work together on such disparate issues as mother-daughter relationships and life beyond the so-called "glass ceiling" -- a reference to mostly male upper management, said Sister Joanne Hanrahan, a Notre Dame sister who will direct the institute and who designed a similar program in St. Louis.

"You can't travel on your own -- yes, you can, but it is much more rewarding doing it with other women," said Patricia Batza, one of 35 women in education, private industry and public life in Maryland who will serve on the institute's advisory board. "When you get together with other women, your life is enriched," she said.

Two years in the planning and funded with $10,000 in seed

money from the Raskob Foundation, a Delaware foundation identified with Catholic education causes, the institute is the latest in a series of initiatives taken by the College of Notre Dame during Sister Kathleen's 21-year tenure in response to changes in women's lives. She retires in July.

The Women's Institute is to operate year-round on the Charles Street campus. Poet and educator Maya Angelou will mark the opening with an evening of stories, poetry and songs Feb. 20.

The first eight seminars cover topics including managing the details of life, effective leadership, coping with stress, parenting teens, feminism and Catholic social thought, and communicating under pressure.

A major focus of future seminars will be issues in the workplace, including sexual harassment. The programs will be given by dTC authorities in the fields to be discussed and vary in length from one-day seminars to once-a-week evening programs over a month's time. The cost for the first group of programs is between $40 and $80.

An initial seminar offered jointly with the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in October attracted 500 women. The programs are aimed at women between ages 35 and 55, but Sister Hanrahan said the institute also intends to develop programs to appeal to adolescent girls.

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