Thursday, February 18, 2010

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The Wellesley Centers for Women
Improving the Lives of Women around the World

WCW staff pose for a photo during their Spring 2008 retreat at Elm Bank.

It is 3:00 pm and Susan McGee Bailey still hasn’t had time for lunch. But far from grouchy, she is gracious and enthusiastic when I ply her with questions about the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), where she is executive director. For more than an hour, we’ve discussed such weighty issues as sexual harassment in schools, work/family balance, gender and justice, and domestic violence, all fields in which, since 1974, WCW has influenced policy-making and programs to improve the lives of women and their families in tangible ways. The organization’s scope and depth has made it by far the largest research center in the United States focusing on women’s issues.


Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D. is executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

During WCW’s 35th year, more than 40 research and action projects are underway in the US and abroad, and three goals—achieving equity in education, advancing women’s economic status, and promoting human rights and women’s leadership around the world—have been set as fundraising priorities.

Bailey, who is also a professor of women’s studies and education at Wellesley College, in 1985 joined what was then the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women (CRW). That center merged with the Stone Center for Developmental Studies at Wellesley College in 1995 to form a single organization under her baton. Six years later, WCW received Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status from the United Nations.

Seated on a vintage sofa in her spacious office, Susan Bailey is at home in Cheever House (circa 1894), one of three WCW buildings. The oak-paneled room blends Victorian front parlor elegance with journals, books, and travel mementos, the treasures of an academic life. Fine art note cards illustrated with women and children are displayed on the mantle of a large fireplace; framed art posters and a child’s drawings hang on the walls. But make no mistake, despite its coziness, we’re in the busy operations center of a world-renowned organization that employs more than 100 researchers and staff members, 30 to 50 Wellesley College students, and three postdoctoral research fellows. Their projects extend into local communities and as far as Asia and the Middle East.

WCW’s Home Office - Cheever House

Wellesley College supports a small percentage of the Centers’ $6.8 million annual budget. Researchers are expected to secure outside funding from the federal government, philanthropic organizations, and other sources. Their success is impressive. Competing against major research universities and large freestanding institutes that are happy to get ten percent of their grant applications funded, WCW consistently receives forty to fifty percent, over a three-to-four-year funding cycle, from the likes of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, NASA, the League of Women Voters, and the National Science Foundation.

A luncheon seminar series is free and open to the public, but even modest fees for online seminars (webinars) and the sale of publications, including the acclaimed bi-monthly, Women’s Review of Books, help the bottom line.

According to Bailey, what differentiates their work from that of most academics is that it is action-oriented as well as scholarly. WCW researchers were among the first in the country to study the urgent need for after school care for children, she says, and more than 30 years later, that data has helped set the standards for local, state, and federal policies now in effect. In another example, Bailey was the principal author of a landmark 1992 American Association of University Women (AAUW) report, How Schools Shortchange Girls, credited with influencing federal legislation funding programs for girls in science and math, which in turn is spurring women to choose and succeed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.


Students in a local elementary school take part in the Open Circle social-emotional and academic learning program based out of WCW.


“Unfortunately, the report is still often misconstrued by the press as an either/or situation, that helping girls is hurting boys or that helping boys is hurting girls, which is not the message of the report,” says Bailey. “We’ve made a lot of progress but when you look at what girls and women have achieved in scientific fields, there remains a long way to go to reach parity in salaries and positions.”

WCW’s Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, named for the late author of the best-selling book, Toward a New Psychology of Women (Beacon Press, 1986), and the first director of the Stone Center, developed what is now known as the Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT), listed by the American Psychological Association as a major theory and strategy of psychotherapy. The RCT model proposes all people grow psychologically through their relationships to others.

Sudbury, Wellesley, and Weston parents may be familiar with Open Circle (www., one of the Centers’ more action-oriented projects, which emerged from RCT studies. Open Circle is a curriculum for grades K-5. The program of social and emotional learning is used in 272 schools in 98 northeast communities. Since 1987, it has trained 7,000 teachers and 400,000 students in New England, New York, and New Jersey.


Michelle Seligson, Ed.M., (far right) the Centers’ National Institute on Out-of-School Time founding director, was a key organizer of the Clinton White House’s summit on after school care.

Bailey recalls that in 1992, the only person doing significant research on sexual harassment in schools was Nan Stein, Ed.D., who had done work at the Massachusetts State Department of Education. Stein was soon recruited to join WCW’s expanding focus on the field. Bailey says part of the job is raising awareness of an issue so people understand it’s important to fund research work. Stein has done that well. Her work now receives major funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice.

Similarly, Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D, an associate director of WCW, pioneered work on white privilege and directs the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) Project, a WCW project now in its 24th year. SEED has taught tens of thousands of English-speaking teachers in 12 countries how to create multiculturally sensitive, gender-fair classrooms. Another large project at the Centers is the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST). More than thirty years ago, it was launched as the School-Age Child Care Project at a time when the term ‘latch-key child’ didn’t yet exist and people still assumed that after school, children were cared for by their mothers. “Many women were working, but the influx of white, middle class suburban women in the workforce made the issue more visible,” says Bailey. NIOST’s founding director, Michelle Seligson, Ed.M., was a key organizer of the Clinton White House’s summit on after school care and the issue has grabbed national attention. But adequate, quality, affordable after school care is still lacking for most children, says Bailey.

35 Years of Research and Action

Which leads one to ask why, after decades of research and developing training programs to address these issues, does this work still need to happen?

“We’ve made progress but it’s scary to see how easy it is to fall backwards,” Bailey replies. “Women still earn only 78 cents to a man’s dollar. Gender violence in schools and among young people is now worse, not better; it’s in the headlines, horrifically, that violence is no longer verbal but dangerously more physical and abusive. We [at WCW] have done a lot of work on early childcare, from birth to age three, but controversies continue around what is adequate. We still have job discrimination. People often begin to say women are ‘taking over’ when at best they hold 25 percent of jobs in a particular field. Women are earning more degrees in some fields but it takes time to catch up. For example, only 15 of the Fortune 500 corporations are led by women. Fewer than 20 percent of US senators are women.”

Nonetheless, hope exists, she says, citing the White House Council on Women and Girls created by President Obama in March 2009, and the ambassador-at-large for women’s affairs post created by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. At WCW, there’s a growing focus on international issues led by Bailey and Rangita de Silva-de Alwis, LL.M., S.J.D., a human rights attorney who previously worked with the United Nations. In 2007, a conference on the rights of Asian women and children was co-sponsored by WCW and UNICEF in Bangkok. A new initiative is creating networks of women already at high- to mid-level positions in the Middle East who have seized opportunities to be involved in their countries’ business, political, and legal fields so they can learn from one another. The Centers are now involved in a US–Saudi Women’s Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, a collaborative project with the Center for Women's Leadership at Babson College, that is promoting women’s professional advancement in Saudi Arabia.

Michelle Porche, Ed.D., senior research scientist at WCW, presents during a lunchtime seminar.

Join the Conversation

Spring 2010 Schedule:
March 4 – Ticket Office Sexism: The Gender Gap in Pricing for DCAA DI Basketball
Laura Pappano and Allison Tracy, PhD

March 11 – The Heart of Change: What Really Moves Us
Amy Banks, MD

March 18 – Teen Voices: Identity Development in a Community-Based Media Internship
Linda Charmaraman, PhD

April 1 – The Measurement and Use of ‘Social Class’ in Published Research: Education, Occupation, Income, Location, Government Assistance, or Some Combination Thereof
Alice Frye, PhD

April 8 – Boy Time: Early Findings from an Ethnographic Study of Middle School Boys’ Empowerment Group
Georgia Hall and Linda Charmaraman, PhD

April 15 – The Pedagogy of Inclusion – Talking and Teaching about Sexual Orientation and Homophobia

Toni Lester, JD, PhD
• Child and Adolescent Development
• Childcare



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