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Words of Wisdom for Women

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Women's Commission Breakfast attendees look on and listen as UM President Donna E. Shalala delivers the keynote address "Words of Wisdom for Women."

When University of Miami president Donna E. Shalala was a young college instructor in the early stages of her higher education career, the chair of the department in which she taught told her she would never be granted tenure and that she had embarrassed her male colleagues by publishing more scholarly works than they had produced combined.

Today, years after her first college presidency, a chancellorship at a Big Ten university, and a stint as the longest-serving U.S. secretary of health and human services in history, President Shalala said she still senses discrimination against women.

At the UM Women's Commission Breakfast, President Shalala said women "have come a long way," but that more progress is needed, particularly in having more women, as well as minorities, involved in key decision-making.

“There’s just no question that while there is never just one woman in the room, there still aren’t enough,” Shalala said at the University of Miami Women’s Commission Breakfast on March 28.

Delivering the keynote address titled “Words of Wisdom for Women” to an audience of more than 250 people, President Shalala said there are still too many places in the country—whether it be in corporate boardrooms, chambers of commerce, or at political discussions in state capitals and even in Washington, D.C.—that are male-dominated.

“I’m asked all the time whether that makes a difference, and I actually think it does,” she said. “The best policies are made when people of different backgrounds are in the room. It makes a difference if there is genuine diversity in the room thinking about policies or procedures being put in place. It makes a difference if someone’s in the room who grew up in poverty or grew up in a different country.”

She said that while women have achieved significant gains in higher education—surpassing men by record numbers in college enrollments and completion, for example—“the question is what happens to them afterward, whether they get access to administrative, faculty, and staff positions.” She called for stronger support systems for women when they do get hired.

A generation of Baby Boomers, President Shalala noted, will soon be retiring, leaving colleges and universities across the nation with important job vacancies to fill. “We will have to carefully design our systems so that there are more opportunities for women and minorities,” she said.

At the breakfast, the Women’s Commission announced the winners of its Louise P. Mills and May Brunson awards.

Panagiota “Pat” Caralis, a professor of medicine at the Miller School, received the May A. Brunson Award, which is named in honor of the University’s second dean of women and presented to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to improving the status of women at the University.

Caralis, who earned her undergraduate, medical, and law degrees from UM, created and headed a women’s health clinic at the Miami VA Healthcare System, where it has served as a model for other VA hospitals around the country. She also has lectured and written extensively on domestic violence, helping the health care community to recognize the problem as a medical issue.

Kelsey Kearns, a junior and residential assistant in Stanford Residential College, received the Louise P. Mills Award. Given to a student who exhibits “leadership, creativity, caring and high academic performance,” the award is named after a former UM dean of women who also held other titles at the institution. Kearns has been involved in Alternative Spring Break and campus civic engagement events. This year she helped several women with eating disorders and other problems, referring them to social workers and offering support.


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