New program encourages diversity in op-ed writing

A new program introduced at Yale in the spring aims to bring more female and minority experts into the field of opinion writing.

The Yale Women’s Faculty Forum and the Provost’s Office have provided $50,000 to sponsor the Public Voices Thought Leadership Fellowship at Yale, which pairs senior faculty members with writing mentors from the OpEd Project, a New York-based organization that works with universities and nonprofits across the country to encourage gender equality in opinion journalism. OpEd Project instructors work with 20 “OpEd fellows” ­— female and minority male members of Yale’s faculty — for two years of mentoring.

Men compose 87 percent of Wikipedia editors, 84 percent of pundits on Sunday morning talk shows and 80 to 90 percent of contributors to newspaper opinion pieces, according to the OpEd Project’s website. American studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies professor Laura Wexler said those statistics motivated her to spearhead the effort that brought the OpEd Project to campus in May, with the help ofSchool of Medicine professor Shirley McCarthy. At the time, both Wexler and McCarthy were co-chairs of the Women’s Faculty Forum, a group that promotes gender equity at the University.

“We need a greater variety of voices to help expand public commitment to scientific research, enrich our social world and deepen our political choices,” Wexler said in a Wednesday email. “Yale faculty members do important work in all these areas. Yet translating the results of our specialized research for the public idea space is an art in which few of us are trained.”

Newspaper op-ed editors are usually not biased against women and minorities, McCarthy said, but those segments of the population submit fewer op-eds for publication.

After the Women’s Faculty Forum proposed bringing the OpEd Project to Yale, the Provost’s Office agreed to partially fund the fellowship, Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, said in a Wednesday email to the News. OpEd Project director Catherine Orenstein and project member Katherine Lanpher lead the fellowship at Yale. The project has also introduced efforts at Stanford and New York University, among other schools.

Faculty and administrators said the OpEd Project has been well received during its first five months. Wexler, who is one of the 20 fellows, described the response from participants as “overwhelmingly positive.” Since the fellowship came to campus in May, Yale’s OpEd fellows have published fifteen opinion pieces in major media outlets such as PBS, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor and the Huffington Post, according to a Yale press release.

Astronomy and physics professor Priyamvada Natarajan, the current chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum said, she hopes the University will continue sponsoring the OpEd Project to work with Yale faculty beyond the program’s inaugural 2011-’12 year.

“I think this project has been enormously successful,” Natarajan said. “I’m enthusiastically in support of it.”

The OpEd Project was founded in 2008 by Orenstein, a journalist who has written op-ed pieces for the New York Times and Washington Post, among other publications.

The Public Voices Thought Leaders fellowship at Yale hosts quarterly meetings and workshops with the OpEd fellows. Each meeting is organized by the Yale Women’s Faculty Forum.

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