Dr. Deborah Hooker, NC State’s Director of the Women & Gender Studies program, began collaborating with the Women Of Welch (WOW) Village shortly after her arrival this past summer. Dr. Hooker has assisted in leading sessions for Village mentors and is working to establish faculty/resident dinners. She recently sat down to discuss her involvement with the Village, as well as its vision for its future:
Why did you want to initially get involved with the WOW program?
When I learned, this past summer, about the Women of Welch with its emphasis on leadership for women and social justice, I was really excited – for a number of reasons. First of all, as an educator, I think the University’s efforts to integrate academics, leadership, and service, through Living and Learning Villages like WOW, stands to make a real difference in the quality of education overall. If students take the ideas they’re exposed to in their classes back to their campus homes, and if there’s a structure in place – as with WOW – that encourages them to continue talking about those ideas, then the chance that what they’re exposed to in their courses will acquire meaning beyond the classroom is increased—which is what all educators hope for. We only have our students in the classroom for a limited time each week; they’re with their peers much more often, and peer exchanges have a big impact. Students certainly can and do challenge and teach one another.
What aspects/components of WOW connect most with young women entering college?
When I remember my own experience, as a freshman in 1969 coming from a very small town to one of our state’s large public institutions, what I would have appreciated more of can be summed up in one word: mentoring. I had no idea, at that time, how busy faculty were (and are today), but mentoring undergraduate students seems to me to be an extremely important component of education. I’m not talking about tutoring here, although helping students with the specifics of their coursework is important. But rather, what I mean is some interaction – beyond the classroom – that encourages students to take their intellectual curiosity seriously. That desire to know more, to explore a field or topic, shouldn’t be wasted or diluted. And sometimes it’s hard for students to maintain that enthusiasm, especially if they hit a particular bump in the road – like having difficulty in a particular course, for example. They get discouraged. This is why I am really excited about the informal student/faculty dinners WOW is setting up. They can, I think, be a venue for encouraging students to take that desire as seriously as it deserves to be taken, to work past and through those inevitable bumps in the road. And hopefully, too, if students see faculty as people – not unlike them – who have a passion for what they study, write about and teach, maybe that passion can be contagious and encouraging.
What is your vision for the program’s future?
I think that the new “slogan” for the Village pretty much identifies that vision: WOW: “Transforming Sisterhood into Social Justice.” That is, sisterhood is great. Working collectively as a community of young women is great – but it doesn’t stop there. That’s just one particular configuration for understanding the challenges that others like and unlike you confront, for recognizing shared challenges and talents, and for figuring out how to work with those differences and similarities to improve situations beyond that sisterhood configuration.
I would like for the Village to be another strong voice on campus for the ideals of social justice, for all kinds of equity. That’s a lofty ideal, and it sounds rather clichéd, but we need to aim big. It is a worthy goal. Helping students to understand the nuances of leadership – how there are different styles and strategies that allow us to positively shape our communities, that one size does not fit all – is also important. WOW’s service component gives them a chance to apply that knowledge and those leadership skills in a concrete way.
Finally, I would hope that if we can help WOW residents acquire these tools, help them develop as leaders and as confident, engaged students, then perhaps that will inspire these young women to pass that knowledge and those skills on to other, newer students and to those in the other communities in which they will find themselves.
For more information about the Women Of Welch Village, visit: www.ncsu.edu/housing/villages.