NCI strives to maintain feminist mission following complaint filed with OCR

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NCI strives to maintain feminist mission following complaint filed with OCR

The Caroline Richardson Building

The Caroline Richardson Building

Hallie Olson | Staff Photographer

The Caroline Richardson Building

Hallie Olson | Staff Photographer

Hallie Olson | Staff Photographer

The Caroline Richardson Building

Campbell Lutz, News Editor

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Ever since Tulane University and Newcomb College merged into Newcomb-Tulane College in 2006, The Newcomb College Institute has been charged with carrying on Josephine Louise Newcomb’s mission of promoting women’s higher education. NCI funds scholarships, internships and other programs, some of which were accessible only to women and gender minorities.

On Oct. 30, however, NCI sent an email to students involved in NCI announcing it would open all of its programs to all undergraduate students, including men. This came in response to a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education alleging NCI discriminated against men in its programs and scholarships.

The complaint listed 10 NCI programs that exclusively supported women, including the African American Women’s Institute, the Daisy Chain and the Newcomb Scholars Program.

The Newcomb Foundation, which the Newcomb College Board created when with Tulane and Newcomb College merged, manages the endowment. One of the roles of the Foundation had been to ensure all funding went to women. Following the complaint and a discussion with the Newcomb College Board, however, the Foundation voted unanimously to open all of the programs to men.

According to Executive Director of NCI Sally Kenney, the complainant is likely not directly affiliated with Tulane. She referenced an Associated Press article that named men’s rights activist Kursat Pekgoz as the man who filed the complaints against Tulane and other universities.

“There was a person, and he’s Turkish, and he’s 30 years old, and he’s a graduate student at the University of Southern California,” Kenney said. “And he had been actually sanctioned under Title IX for bad behavior towards his ex … and in this weird sequence of events, he ended up suing her for defamation, and then she sued him for a SLAPP suit.”

His ex used California’s anti-SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — law, which obstructs lawsuits filed simply to discredit allegations, to counter Pekgoz’s defamation lawsuit. According to Kenney, the man, angry at the SLAPP suit, talked with Betsy Devos and filed complaints against USC, Yale University, Pennsylvania State University and Georgetown University.

“And so we’re just kind of assuming it’s him,” Kenney said.

Though the complaint was unexpected, it will not change in NCI’s dedication to the mission of promoting women’s education and equality, according to President of Newcomb Senate Helen Marsh.

“Of course nothing’s been easy, but … our main goal is to keep Newcomb’s mission intact and to extend Newcomb’s mission,” Marsh said.

In order to achieve this, NCI will continue to select applicants based on their interest in and ability to promote feminist issues. The only factor that has changed is that they will now consider men who share these feminist interests and goals.

In fact, according to Kenney, the changes give NCI the chance to be more inclusive of all gender identities.

“We’re no longer in the business of policing what the line is between male and female,” Kenney said.

Not all NCI leaders, however, see the complaint as an opportunity.

Bronte Foley, president of the NCI-sponsored organization Women in Politics, said NCI helps to lift women out of their disadvantaged position in society.

“There is a clear pattern of disrespect for women and gender minorities on Tulane’s campus and throughout the world,” Foley said. “I view this complaint as yet another display of that attitude. Of course, NCI will respond with grace in order to avoid being shut down all together. But frankly, that shouldn’t be necessary.”

According to Kenney, NCI is undergoing a three-step refining process. First, the Newcomb Board will refine its policies to comply with the complaint. This is the stage NCI is currently on.

Second, NCI will refine its recruitment strategy to meet the new goals, including reconsidering who receives NCI communications.

Lastly, NCI will inform the community about the new policies and reshape its image.

“I feel like over the last three months we’ve all just been playing defense. And we want to get on and advance the mission instead of fighting with these folks who are trying to position us as the true obstacles of equality,” Kenney said. “So our philosophy is … ‘You want to be involved in women’s equality so much? Yeah, come on in. Everything’s open.’”