Former IU First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie spoke about the influence of women and underrepresented minorities in IU’s history during a virtual presentation Wednesday evening.
More than 80 students, faculty and community members attended the IU Bloomington Staff Council’s Speaker Series celebrating Women’s History Month.
McRobbie spoke about the “Women Who Built IU” project, which was created in 2020 for the university’s Bicentennial celebration to tell the stories of the female researchers, administrators and artists who have contributed to the IU community over the last 200 years.
McRobbie also discussed an IU initiative started in part by the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council called Bridging the Visibility Gap, which brings unknown and underappreciated stories to light.
McRobbie said the goal of these projects is to expand people’s perspective when they think about the history of IU.
“This goes beyond diversifying it from a gender perspective,” McRobbie said. “It's also about diversifying in terms of people of color and other populations that have historically been overlooked.”
According to the IU’s Bicentennial website and the Women Who Built IU website, the history of IU is full of contributions by women, underrepresented minorities and other individuals whose impact has not been appreciated to the same extent as their white male counterparts.
McRobbie said she grew up during the women’s movement and had always been immersed in a community of strong women who instilled in her a passion for women’s issues.
McRobbie is a founder of the Women's Philanthropy Council at the IU Foundation, which helps guide women's philanthropic initiatives at IU and educates women about philanthropy. She also holds an adjunct faculty position in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, and helped create the Laurie Burns McRobbie Serve IT Clinic, Alison Sinadinos, assistant director of the Women in STEM Living Learning Center, said.
Women make up the majority of both IU’s more than 100,000 students and more than 700,000 living alumni. Yet, only 25% of things named after people — such as scholarships and buildings — are named after women, McRobbie said. She wants to close that gap by diversifying IU’s historical narrative and increasing the physical recognition of women and underrepresented minorities through historical markers, portraits, statues, named awards and more.
“The visibility gap is not just women,” McRobbie said. “It's all the under-recognized individuals in IU’s history. We still have a lot of work to do on cultural matters and a lot of visibility in other minority communities.”
Physical recognition of women and minority groups on campus will increase the sense of belonging of new students at IU today, McRobbie said.
One issue women face today is being forced to quit their jobs to take care of children, Samantha Tirey, director of contracts and grants at IU Bloomington, said.
“We have had a lot of people, especially women who have been hit particularly hard in the pandemic, due to caregiving responsibilities,” Tirey said. “The number of women that have had to leave the workforce is staggering.”
McRobbie said the first step to advocating for women and working to solve issues like this is to talk about them.
“There's such power in getting the issue out there for people to actually have a voice and talk about it,” McRobbie said.