Global Links

For Alumni and Friends of The State University of New Jersey

Bookmark and Share

It’s a Woman’s World

Jacquelyn Litt, dean of Douglass Residential College
Jacquelyn Litt is the dean of Douglass Residential College, which, she says, is “a living-learning community writ large, where most of the learning takes place outside of classrooms.” Photography by Deborah Feingold

Jacquelyn Litt, the dean of Douglass Residential College in New Brunswick, is determined to see that the story of Douglass’s rebirth as a residential women’s college gets told—and gets told right. In the middle of the interview, she leaps up to find a copy of a New York Times article describing Douglass as “more of a physical campus than an academic institution” and thwacks it down on the table, shaking her head. “We are way more than that,” she says. “The New York Times got it wrong.” Then she’s up again, proffering a PowerPoint printout that sums up her vision for Douglass with phrases like the “leading institution on campus for women’s education” and “leading resource to Rutgers and national stakeholder for women’s education.”  

Litt, who was founding chair of women’s and gender studies at the University of Missouri before arriving at Douglass last fall, is a passionate booster of the college—and of women’s education. On the first anniversary of her tenure as dean, she explains her plans for Douglass and the women it serves.  — Leslie Garisto Pfaff

Rutgers Magazine: What are the greatest challenges that you and the college face?
Jacquelyn Litt: The big one is continuing to educate the Rutgers community, and our state, about what we do at Douglass. And it is hard to understand, because there’s really nothing like it anywhere else in the country.

RM: How would you summarize Douglass?
JL: It’s a living-learning community writ large, where most of the learning takes place outside of student classrooms and where students can apply classroom learning to outreach activities and community events.

RM: What sort of woman is drawn to Douglass?
JL: When Douglass Residential College was created in 2006, there was the question of who would enter. Now we know. We have students from virtually every school on the New Brunswick Campus. Our students have a higher grade-point average than the campus as a whole; many of them are in Phi Beta Kappa and have received national fellowships. We have the most diverse group of students on the campus. What they share is dedication: taking advantage of this unique opportunity requires a high degree of engagement and a seriousness of purpose about their education and future.

RM: How do students come to enroll at Douglass?
JL: Students apply to Rutgers; once they’ve enrolled, they can enroll at Douglass as well. Any female student from any academic school at Rutgers–New Brunswick can join Douglass. 

RM: Do you see your mission as protecting the Douglass tradition or helping the college adapt and change?
JL: Both. Mabel Smith Douglass founded the college and said, essentially, “This is up to you, girls,” meaning your education is what you bring to it and what we help you make of it. That’s very much the spirit with which we’re moving forward.

RM: Will you be implementing any changes in the next year or so?
JL: We’ll be using the tremendous resources at Rutgers to build our programs, partnering with the Institute for Women’s Leadership on the Douglass Leadership Union, a student-led initiative offering leadership development and teaching the history of women’s leadership worldwide. An initiative with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership will train students in United Nations advocacy and global women’s rights. We’re working with the School of Arts and Sciences on new study-abroad programming, and creating a culture of environmental stewardship with the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. And we’ll be incorporating our required first-year course in women’s leadership and our externship program, in which students shadow alumnae on the job, into a larger program on women and the workplace.

RM: Is women’s education still relevant in the 21st century?
JL: Yes. Women are still at a disadvantage in the workforce. They still receive lower pay and encounter the glass ceiling. They still are underrepresented in many fields and in leadership. Many women and girls worldwide have no access to education. So there’s still a terrific need to educate our students about these problems and give them the tools to advocate for themselves and women worldwide. 

RM: It sounds like Douglass is here to stay.
JL: Douglass Residential College was formed by a resolution of the Rutgers Board of Governors. In President Richard L. McCormick’s 2006 recommendation to the board, he called for the creation of a residential college to provide “the option of a four-year, women-centered educational experience within a public research university.”

Students say their Douglass education broadened their horizons and prepared them for a fuller life, teaching them to take risks, have more faith in themselves, and contribute to making the world a better place. Nowhere else provides the same kinds of opportunities and communities for women in a first-class public research university; there are very few institutions worldwide that have the same flexibility and commitment to provide an innovative education for women’s success. So, yes, Douglass is here to stay. •