The gift from Howard trustee Jim Murren and philanthropist Heather Murren will start a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign to support the center’s endowment — funding academic programs and underwriting faculty salaries, Frederick said.
“The focus on Black women is long overdue,” said Frederick, adding that women constitute 70 percent of Howard’s student body. The center will deal with the “vexing inequalities” that Black and minority women face worldwide, including maternal mortality and income inequality, Frederick said.
The announcement comes days after Howard alum Kamala D. Harris became the nation’s first female vice president-elect and amid a renewed national focus on racial inequality.
“I think people recognize that if they invest at Howard and at other HBCUs that they may be assisting in the matriculation and in the development of the next Kamala Harris or the next Elijah Cummings or the next Thurgood Marshall,” Frederick said, using the acronym for historically Black colleges and universities.
J. Jarpa Dawuni, an associate political science professor at Howard, will lead the charge. She has been doing research and activism around women’s issues since she joined the university’s faculty in 2015, she said.
“We are looking at this center as part of positioning Howard University within the global discourse on issues relating to women, gender and masculinity,” Dawuni said. In addition to producing research, she said, the center will promote community service, award scholarships, match students with internships, and “prepare future leaders who are gender-conscious and grounded in Black feminist consciousness.”
For every 100 men promoted into a managerial positions, just 58 Black women advance into similar roles, according to a workplace study by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org. Women of color held just 3 percent of C-suite roles at the beginning of this year, compared with 19 percent for White women and 66 percent for White men.
Dawuni hopes to tackle those disparities.
“By the time they finish Howard, they will have the skills they need . . . to become the leaders we want them to be,” she said about future students.
The Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership will be housed on campus, tentatively in the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, Dawuni said. The school is planning to hold an official opening, probably virtually, in the spring.
Heather Murren, who has been a longtime supporter of women’s issues, said she was drawn to Howard after watching racial unrest unfold over the summer, as well as the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on Black women and other women of color.
She said she was “thinking through and reflecting on what I can do.”
The Murrens said they made their donation after one of their children suggested that the parents blend their interests — Heather’s expertise in women’s issues and Jim’s deep knowledge of Howard.
“The fact that we began this discussion as a family at the beginning of the pandemic and now here we are, post an election where the vice president-elect is a Howard alum, is just really incredibly inspiring,” Jim Murren said.
But investing in Black women is also good business, Heather Murren said. The country will need “every asset” to rebuild the economy when the pandemic ends.
“It’s incumbent on all of us to make sure we allow people to fully realize their potential because it benefits all of us,” she said. “Our hope is that this really is the beginning point. This is what we hope will become a model of excellence.”