At 50, Center for the Education of Women celebrates a wider mission

This 1970s photo shows Center for the Education of Women staff and participants. (Photo courtesy of the Center for the Education of Women)


In the beginning, the Center for the Education of Women’s mission was advocating for adult women who were underrepresented at the University of Michigan.

But as the center celebrates its 50th anniversary, CEW’s student constituency is not strictly defined as adult women. The center today is charged with serving nontraditional students, of which women still comprise the great majority, says Director Gloria D. Thomas.

“CEW’s nontraditional students currently are student parents, first-generation students, part-time students who work full time, older adult students, and community college transfers. An increasing number of CEW’s constituents are men who also fit these nontraditional categories,” Thomas says.

And as the center continues to adapt to serve clients, it celebrates its anniversary year with four key events. Each showcases a key aspect of CEW’s work.

“CEW Celebrates Women & Film” in January celebrated its community partnerships with organizations committed to women’s causes. From May 14-16 at Rackham Auditorium, the Women & Economic Security Conference will join academics and activists-practitioners to share understanding of the key barriers and potential solutions for women striving to exit the cycle of poverty.

Thomas says the May conference is special because CEW will continue in the decades ahead to focus on women’s economic security and mobility through collaborations.

“Work remains to be done. In society, women are still paid less; remain a minority in leadership roles and influential positions; and are the disproportionate majority of Americans living in poverty,” Thomas says. “And for women of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, these experiences of low representation and status, as well as uncivil cultural and climate encounters, are even more dire.”

Beth Jakubowski, project coordinator with ATLAS at the U-M Transportation Research Institute, said the CEW made it possible for her to pursue and earn a bachelor’s degree in anthropology after she was laid off from her corporate job.

“In 2010 I was an older student returning to school. That’s one of the things they do is serve this part of the community, these older women changing their life,” says Jakubowski.

Told by a friend of the CEW’s services, she applied and received a scholarship to help pay for schooling. She also found a work-study job through CEW. “They helped me show that at the age of 48 I could still grow and earn a degree and graduate with honors,” Jakubowski says.

Naomi Andre is an associate professor of women’s studies, Residential College, and of Afroamerican and African studies, LSA, and is a steering committee member of the Women of Color in the Academy Project, an organization housed at CEW and dedicated to building a campuswide network of women of color faculty.

After completing graduate work at Harvard, she came to U-M and was impressed with how CEW not only thought about issues regarding biases and stereotypes, they had programming to address them.

“I think CEW is the one place where so many things come together: amazing resources, expert advice, and kindness are available to anyone in the U-M community and beyond,” she says.

When a small group of women established the Center for the Education of Women in 1964, they worked with women at critical life junctures, Thomas says. “They assisted women who sought to complete an interrupted education, to enter the labor market, and to achieve a balance between their personal aspirations and their family commitments,” she says.

Helping individuals with common concerns led to programming, advocacy with university units, and key innovations, such as evening classes. Thomas says CEW became a source of support and information for staff and faculty women. It also is viewed as a bridge between U-M and the Ann Arbor community.

CEW programs and services include: scholarships to provide tuition support for nontraditional students returning to higher education; career and educational counseling; workshops, seminars and a staff leadership development program; advocacy initiatives to assist women on campus and in the community in achieving access, equity and equal opportunities in their education and career pursuits; and information and research on women’s careers and experiences in higher education.

The CEW monitors university policies and practices that affect women, and its services and programs are all open to men.

The anniversary celebration continues this fall with a Friends and Scholars Weekend in October celebrating CEW’s ongoing scholarship program, and more than 1,600 CEW scholars who have benefited.

The CEW is co-sponsoring with the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies author Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Color Purple,” in the Zora Neale Hurston Lecture Nov. 5 in Rackham Auditorium.