Emory Report
October 15, 2007
Volume 60, Number 7

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October 15, 2007
Crowning achievements for Emory women

By stacey jones

Few people are as well known across the University’s many constituencies as Ali P. Crown, director of the Center for Women at Emory. Crown announced recently that she will step down after a replacement is hired. As the founding director of what was initially called the Emory Women’s Center, Crown has touched the lives of undergraduate, graduate and professional students, current and former faculty and staff, trustees, alumni, Emory friends, and members of the greater Atlanta and DeKalb communities in her 15 years at its helm.

“I am excited for Ali, and what the future holds for her, but saddened that members of the University community will lose a valuable colleague and a committed leader,” said Ozzie Harris, vice provost of community and diversity, at the Sept. 5 Center for Women Advisory Board retreat where the announcement was made.

Crown stressed that she isn’t “retiring” per se, but stepping down for the opportunity to do more community work on behalf of women. “I prefer looking at it as a ‘resurging,’” she says with her distinctive laugh. “I have plenty of interests to keep me busy. There’s so much that still needs to be done with women’s issues right now, particularly with our reproductive rights, which are hanging by a thread.”

Crown came to Emory in 1980 to set up the Law and Economics Center, which had been lured from the University of Miami. When the center moved again in 1984, Crown decided to stay at Emory and set her sights on returning to school here. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1985, spent a year as assistant to the dean of the School of Medicine, followed with six years in the business school, her last position there being associate director of executive education.

All the while Crown was instrumental in women’s issues at Emory. She was involved in the early work of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and served as its chair from 1989 to 1990. In the aftermath of two sexual assaults that shocked the campus community, the decision was made to establish a women’s center and Crown was chosen to lead it.

She established every single program the center now offers, many of which are as familiar and perennial to the Emory community as freshman orientation and Commencement, including Women’s History Month, Telling Our Stories, the Unsung Heroines Awards, the Mary Lynn Morgan Lectureship on Women in the Health Professions, and the monthly Women’s Health and Wellness lunch-and-learn series. In all, the Center for Women sponsors or co-sponsors some 50 programs a year on campus.

But the work of Crown and the center has also brought a personal touch to the lives of Emory people, whether it’s literally through massage therapy appointments or the quiet of the Nursing Nest, where for more than a decade working mothers could nurse their babies or pump milk.

The center’s programming reflects Crown’s knack for inclusiveness and her “awareness of the complexities of women’s lives,” as she puts it.

Former Center for Women Advisory Board Chair Carolyn Bregman, director of career services at the law school, says, “Ali’s wisdom, humor, insight and heart have made her one of my personal heroines. She is inclusive, exacting and inspiring. She looks to the heart of each person’s strengths and talents and encourages them to use their gifts not only for the benefit of the center and for Emory, but to enrich their own lives. She has a generosity of spirit that is unrivaled.”

Crown has also served as a consultant to other colleges and universities establishing women’s centers, and is currently a member of the Women’s Center Committee of the National Women’s Studies Association. It was through her work outside Emory that Harris became indirectly acquainted with Crown.

“One of my most trusted colleagues at Dartmouth deeply admired Ali’s professional work and her personal style,” he says. “This fact contributed to my decision to come to Emory. Ali ‘live and in person’ has certainly lived up to her reputation.” Harris’ colleague accompanied Crown to Case Western Reserve University in 2001 to advocate for a women’s center there, where current Emory President Jim Wagner was provost and acting president.

Crown has been president of Emory’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter since 2005 and is a longtime member of the Marion Luther Brittain and Bobby Jones Scholarship awards committees. She has occasionally served on scholarship committees with her partner of 23 years, David Edwards, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience. “It’s a humbling experience to see what Emory students are doing,” Crown says of the scholarship nomination process. “And some of the greatest experiences I’ve had at Emory have been going with David and his students on study abroad trips.”

While she would not characterize it as such, Crown most certainly has been mentor to a generation of young women who have worked at the Center for Women. She keeps in touch with them, having attended weddings and received photos of children and news of additional degrees. “All of the relationships were as transformational for me as I believe they were for them,” she says. “How do you put a value on that? It was their transition between college and graduate school, and they stopped off here. How lucky I am that that happened.”

The many friends and acquaintances Crown has made at Emory throughout her 27 years here would most likely say the same about her. They might add that the Emory community has been vastly richer for her presence here and that the mark she has left might prove to be every bit as permanent as that of many of the (all male) presidents of Emory who’ve preceded her.