Office for Women champions gender equality at IUPUI: What’s New at IU: Indiana University

“If you want to be a dentist, be a dentist.”

So says LaQuia Vinson to students considering applying to the Indiana University School of Dentistry — especially women.

“My biggest advice is, ‘Don’t give up,'” said Vinson, an associate professor in the school’s department of pediatric dentistry. “If you want to be a dentist, be a dentist. Don’t settle for it or question yourself.”

She kept that advice in mind as she graduated in the male-dominated field of dentistry and later when a full-time position at the School of Dentistry opened up in 2009. She said she always said yes to the roles that came their way and she also looked for ways to advance professionally to be the best in every role she was in.

“We need to keep moving the needle when it comes to representation,” Vinson said.

One program that Vinson said has helped her find employment is the Enhanced Mentoring Program with Opportunities for Ways to Excel in Research, known as EMPOWER. EMPOWER is offered by the IUPUI Office for Women and is co-sponsored and funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. It’s just one of the IUPUI programs that support historically underrepresented faculty and staff.

“I was matched with a mentor and given $4,000 to help build my research,” Vinson said. “As a new faculty member just starting out in research, this was critical to my success. This funding has enabled me to author three peer-reviewed journal articles and an international poster presentation, in exchange for supervising one undergraduate student.”

Working for inclusion and equality

Before Title IX was adopted 50 years ago, few women held leadership positions in higher education. A 1968 survey of nearly 200 sociology departments found that while women made up 30 percent of graduate students, they made up only 4 percent of full professors and 1 percent of chairs.

The statistics are different today. At IUPUI, the Dean of the School of Dentistry is a woman. In fact, women hold eight deanery positions across campus, plus many other leadership positions.

The Office for Women has played a critical role in this progress through the programs and mentoring it offers to empower women at IUPUI and increase equality of opportunity. The office celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

“Since its inception, IUPUI has been very conscious of gender equality,” said Kathleen Grove, director of the Office for Women. “We were there at the very beginning when the federal government gave this enormous boost to university access for women.”

Three years after the formation of the IUPUI, Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments was passed. The legislation aims to provide women with equal educational and employment opportunities by prohibiting gender discrimination in state-funded schools.

Grove was studying law at what is now Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law when Title IX became a law student.

“I remember that moment as important and impactful,” she said. “At the time, there weren’t many (if any) college or high school athletic opportunities for women. Several Ivy League schools and the military academies still did not admit women. Women could not get credit cards in their own names. A woman could be fired from her job if she were pregnant. There was a lack of talent and women’s voices in leadership positions across the country.

“When I entered law school in the middle of the second wave of feminism, I learned that there was still work to be done. Title IX opened up basic education and vocational training for women, and there are many other great opportunities for women in higher education today.”

Grove said that from 1969 to 1979 enrollment at IUPUI doubled and the percentage of female students increased from 41 to 58 percent.

Continuing to improve opportunities for women at IUPUI is central to Grove’s work. During her nearly two decades at IUPUI, Grove said she is most proud of the ongoing program that the Office for Women has developed in collaboration with other entities, focused on creating an inclusive environment through mentoring, women leadership development, professional development and gender concentrated equity. It expanded the annual Women’s History Month awards, which honor faculty, staff and students who have shown leadership in gender equality, and was instrumental in the 2019 IUPUI Conference for Women, where 400 staff members a day-long professional development and workshops.

“The influence of women at IUPUI is tremendous,” said Anne Mitchell, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity at IUPUI, IUPUC and IU Fort Wayne. “We have a long history of women leaders at IUPUI who not only thrived in their fields but created networks of women in general and networks of women of color who mentored and nurtured one another. And this work continues. It’s also important to realize that we’re not quite there yet. For example, we have never had a chancellor.”

According to a 2014 task force report, the number of tenure track and tenured faculty at IUPUI steadily increased from 2002 to 2012. track positions.

EMPOWER in action

LaQuia Vinson’s research focused on a product called DynaCleft, a preoperative device designed to improve outcomes for babies born with cleft lip and palate. When she started as a full-time lecturer, Vinson found that there was no research on the product. Her work on DynaCleft over the past 10 years—funded first by EMPOWER and then by other grants—has helped hundreds of babies at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

“The EMPOWER program has been critical,” she said. “When I started the School of Dentistry, I was the only full-time female faculty member for the graduate program in pediatric dentistry and I had no academic background. So it was tremendous to have a starting point: not just for me, but also for the babies in Riley.”

Vinson said she is grateful for what IUPUI has made possible in her career. Since starting at EMPOWER, she has continued to add more leadership roles over time. She was promoted and hired in 2019, and also became Director of the Postgraduate Residency Program in the same year. She has just completed another program offered by the Office for Women, the Next Generation 2.0 Leadership Training Program, which supports mid-career faculty and professional staff at IUPUI who are women and/or from underrepresented populations and by career Seek development opportunities and leadership training. Next Generation 2.0 is funded and co-managed by the Study Office.

“I’m grateful to have these opportunities and resources at IUPUI,” said Vinson. “These connections, mentoring opportunities and networking opportunities would not exist without the IUPUI Women’s Office and all those who have been instrumental in starting these programs and keeping them running. And they helped me get to where I am today.”

National Recognition

The strides IUPUI has made in increasing opportunities and equal opportunities for women have not gone unnoticed. Last year, Forbes Magazine listed IUPUI among its top employers for women in 2021. IUPUI ranked 14th out of 300 employers on the list – the top employer for women in Indiana and the #3 university in the country.

“There’s still a lot to do,” Grove said. “Working for diversity, inclusion and equity is a constant. You can’t do one thing and think you’ve accomplished it because there are always obstacles and challenges. So the work goes on. And I am grateful that IUPUI recognizes and supports this effort.”

“We must continue to inspire people to know that they can push themselves and move forward,” Vinson added. “I think Title IX gives women a boost to be able to say, ‘We’re equally qualified. There’s no reason we can’t fulfill this new role or say yes. We are just as capable of doing anything that men can do. ‘”

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