The news seemed too perfect to be a coincidence: On November 12, less than a week after Howard alum Kamala Harris was elected as the nation’s first female and first Black Vice President, the university announced it had received $1 million to start the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership. Surely, the excitement around Harris’s historic win was the catalyst for this donation?
Actually, the idea for the center had been percolating in J. Jarpa Dawuni’s head since she arrived at Howard five years ago. The political-science professor has long been focused on women’s rights, first as a law student in Ghana—she planned to become a human-rights lawyer—and then as an academic after she realized she had a need “to know more,” as she puts it. After moving to the US, Dawuni added a master’s in international development and a PhD in political science to her CV.
When she landed her job at Howard, Dawuni was surprised to find that the university lacked an institutional hub for researching and advancing gender equality. So in her first year, she and a colleague launched the Women, Gender, and Sexualities Collective, a forum for students and faculty to study those topics. At the same time, she started pushing for something bigger: an on-campus center devoted to the experiences of Black women—and designed to promote them as leaders.
When Dawuni learned that former MGM Resorts CEO (and Howard trustee) Jim Murren and his wife, Heather, were interested in making a gift to the school, she was ready with a proposal. The Murrens went for it, and now their $1 million will serve as startup money so the center can hire staff and launch. Dawuni, who will run it, envisions creating structured mentorships and networking opportunities for female students, and she intends to establish pipelines to internships and jobs. She’s also planning a study-abroad program focused on women’s issues and a new minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies, and she hopes the center will house a national database documenting the contributions of Black women.
The timing of the center’s announcement had been in the works well before the election, and Dawuni was worried that if Trump had won, the moment could be difficult. “I was thinking: How is this going to be?” she says. “Are we going to be smiling or crying? But it couldn’t have been better.” Harris, meanwhile, has “an open invitation” to visit any time.