I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some of higher education’s future leaders. They are smart, ambitious, and talented. They are committed to their disciplines and to the pursuit of knowledge. And they are Wellesley women (of course!).
More specifically, they are our 16 students who are part of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program. MMUF is a highly selective program that supports students from underrepresented populations who wish to go on to earn advanced degrees and teach at the college level. This national program has been in existence since 1988, and Wellesley has participated in it since 1989, having now graduated 109 fellows. The goal of the program is simple: to increase the number of underrepresented faculty at colleges across the country. With generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, these fellows are able to work on original research in the humanities and social sciences.
Last week, at this year’s Ruhlman Conference, I enjoyed attending a panel session in which four of our Mellon Mays fellows presented their work. Research included: the ways women of color use online social networks to thrive in the real world; the role of race and religion in college students’ perceptions of mental health; race relations in political protests in this country; and the role of gender and the Brown Berets during the civil rights movement. This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of recognizing our Mellon Mays fellows, as well as their Wellesley faculty and staff mentors, during a reception at my home.
What’s remarkable about the MMUF program is that our students are supported not only by Wellesley faculty and staff who care deeply about them, but by Wellesley faculty who are MMUF alumni themselves.
MMUF is making a quantifiable difference in increasing the diversity of college faculties around the country. It is and will remain an important program to Wellesley and to the future of higher education.
I love Wellesley traditions. This morning, members of the golden Class of 2015 joined generations of Wellesley women before them by rolling their hoops down Tupelo Lane for the chance to win some serious bragging rights. The winner is said to be the first in her class to be successful—however she defines success.
Sophia Garcia ’15 not only crossed the (yellow) finish line first, she was a great sport as her classmates threw her into Lake Waban on such a chilly spring morning.
Last week, I joined our Class of 2015 for their Senior Soiree. An always-festive occasion, the event is made even more special by an announcement that, until that evening, is a highly guarded secret—the naming of the Senior Class’s Commencement speaker.
Senior Class Officers Sahitya Raja and Ahilya Chawla had the honor of making the big reveal: this year’s Commencement speaker will be award-winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The announcement was met with loud cheers—and for good reason. If you haven’t read Ms. Adichie’s work (and I suggest that you do) you may be familiar with her words from Beyoncé’s Grammy-nominated song Flawless (Beyoncé loved Ms. Adichie’s 2013 TEDx Talk, “We should all be feminists”). She is a talented writer, a distinguished humanitarian, and unabashed feminist whose thought-provoking work has inspired a generation—including scores of Wellesley students.
Simply put, Chimamanda is the perfect choice to send off our graduating seniors as they get ready to make their mark on the world. We can’t wait to welcome her to Wellesley!
As I tweeted earlier this week, Wellesley truly was not the same without our students over the winter break. As we welcomed you back to campus, we also welcomed the return of our true New England weather. And it made me smile to see that it took practically no time at all before fresh sledding tracks appeared along Severance Hill.
As we dig out and the semester gets underway, let me share just a few thoughts about the coming semester.
We all know that Wellesley is an amazing place. It is amazing because of the people who are part of this community and because of the opportunities that are available on and off campus. This semester, there once again will be many ways to experience quintessential Wellesley—and I hope you will take advantage of them!
Here’s just a sampling:
- I hope you will spend a few moments—or more!—inside our world-class museum, The Davis, this semester. Among the many fabulous exhibitions on view this semester will be the work of critically acclaimed artist Parviz Tanavoli, who is known as the “father of modern Iranian sculpture.”
- I invite you to join us in celebrating the important role that wellness plays on campus. This week we re-opened a beautifully renovated Field House, one of the many buildings to benefit from our campus renewal projects. New walls, a new roof, and new windows that bring in more natural light have given the Field House new life. It also now features a new Fitness Center overlooking a permanent basketball floor. (Read about the old portable floor’s second life with Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournaments.)
- There will also be opportunities to contribute to the sustainability of campus. The Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability is looking for ideas to make Wellesley even more sustainable than it is. (Due to the snow days earlier this week, they will be rescheduling their Idea Fest. Stay tuned!)
- And there’s one more weekend left to catch Wellesley Summer Theatre’s production of Virginia Woolf’s gender-flipping 1928 novel, Orlando.
Last, I want to personally invite you to be in touch and stay in touch with me this semester—whether in person during my Open Office Hours or over lunch when I’m in the dining halls; or over email or on Twitter. I want to know what’s on your mind!
I look forward to this coming semester—it’s going to be another great one!
On December 12, the Boston Globe columnist Lawrence Harmon wrote a “follow up” to Professor Jerry Auerbach’s recent work in American Thinker. Professor Auerbach does not reflect the views of Wellesley College, and as Dean of Students Debra DeMeis and Professor Larry Rosenwald explained to Mr. Harmon, Wellesley is dedicated to supporting a rich and active Jewish life on campus—as well as an inclusive and respectful community for all our students.
We encourage our students to engage in the meaningful discussions—including respectful exchange of differing views—that advance their learning. But in case Mr. Harmon’s opinion piece caused any confusion, let me be clear: Anti-Semitism is not now and will never be tolerated at Wellesley.
The events of the last two weeks from Ferguson to Staten Island have once again raised serious questions about whether the same justice exists for everyone in our country. My heart goes out to the families who are suffering. I know that these have been difficult days for members of our community as well, particularly our students, faculty, staff and alumnae of African descent, as they struggle to make sense of the decisions and to understand their implications for their friends, their family, and communities across the country.
Today our students have brought the national discussion to life on our campus. I support them in their protest.
In reflecting on the situation, I am grateful for our Wellesley tradition of reasoned discourse and commitment to justice. We must recognize that there is much work to be done across our country—and we must start in our own community.
We must confront any racial injustices that black students, faculty, and staff face on our campus, and we, as an institution, must demonstrate the value that all members of our community bring through our actions and response to these injustices.
These conversations are not easy. But let us not be deterred from the important work that lies ahead.
Wellesley is a remarkable institution. It always has been, and it always will be, thanks to the incredible dedication of the generations of people who care so deeply about it.
It is a pleasure to share my thoughts on what’s new at the College, what we’re focused on, and how Wellesley continues to be the exceptional place you know and love.
Today at lunch, I learned something that every student here likely already knows: You can eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you so choose. (And, that ice cream is delicious atop waffles.)
Thanks to the residents of Stone-Davis Hall for joining me for lunch today, and for the great conversation about a number of important topics—not just ice cream!
I hope to stop by for lunch at other dining halls this year, and look forward to seeing you there. I’ll tweet when and where the day before. Or, check out my Connect with Kim webpage to see where I’m headed next, and for other ways to connect with me in person.
As I wrote earlier this month, the broad question What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st Century? will serve as the theme for a number of important conversations this year.
This is an important moment for these conversations and I look forward to engaging students, faculty, staff, and alumnae in this broad theme and the many implications and subtopics that this theme provides—including, initially, the topic of gender fluidity and its implications for a women’s college.
As I wrote to our campus community today: Wellesley College was founded to educate women who will make a difference in the world. Wellesley’s founders recognized that the education of women would confer powerful benefits upon both society and individuals. They also recognized that women faced significant challenges—social, economic, cultural—in attaining an education.
Wellesley remains steadfast in its mission, investing its considerable resources to awaken the potential of individual women and to give them the tools they need to make a meaningful difference. Wellesley is likewise committed to maintaining a community of individuals who embrace the College’s mission of educating women.
That said, there is great diversity today in the ways individuals experience and express their gender identity. Gender fluidity has implications for women’s colleges in general and for Wellesley College in particular.
We recognize that the issues of gender identity and transgender experience are relevant and complex. We must build a better understanding of these issues and determine what current policies and practices might need revision in light of this understanding
To begin this conversation, I will be appointing an advisory committee. Composed of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, the Committee will have the following charge:
- First: Inquiry. The Committee will determine and delineate the specific issues raised for a women’s college and our community at a time when gender fluidity is becoming increasingly acknowledged. To accomplish this goal, they will seek input from all members of the College community.
- Second: Education. Recognizing that different members of our community have varying levels of knowledge and understanding of this topic, the Committee will coordinate a year-long program of events and activities designed to bring all members of our community to a common baseline level of knowledge and understanding. The Committee will also facilitate opportunities for many voices to be heard, both on campus and among our alumnae.
- Third: Evaluation. Throughout the fall semester, the Committee will examine all relevant policies and practices on campus, will solicit input from key Wellesley constituencies and will determine whether and how they continue to serve the mission of the College in the context of new understandings about gender.
- Fourth: Findings. At the beginning of the spring semester, the committee will present its findings regarding policies or practices that are affected by the College’s evolving understanding of gender and their impact on Wellesley’s mission. These findings, and subsequent discussion of them by the College’s governance bodies/structures, will guide recommendations to be made to the Board of Trustees.
Advisory committee members will be selected in consultation with the appropriate governance structure (i.e., Agenda Committee for faculty, College Government for students, Administrative Council for staff, and the Alumnae Association). I want to thank those of you who have already reached out to me to express your interest in participating in these conversations in some way—I encourage others who are interested to do the same.
I likewise invite all members of the community to be engaged in this dialogue throughout the year, and I welcome your feedback on the charge to the advisory committee.
In my Convocation address this week, I stressed the continued importance of being a women’s college today, and the advantages to our students stemming from Wellesley’s historic investment in women. This investment has paid off in generations of inspiring and dynamic Wellesley graduates making a difference in the world. As I said, this is the Wellesley “magic.”
Being at a women’s college matters. Being at Wellesley matters.
As I wrote to our students, faculty, and staff today—to continue to invest intelligently, and to serve all of our students well, it is important that we ask the question: What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? It clearly does not mean the same as being a woman in the 19th or even the 20th century – needs have changed, context has changed, expectations have changed, societal practices have changed, even the language has changed.
The broad question has several implications and will serve as the basis this year for a number of important discussions—and as the foundation for meaningful change in several arenas. We as a community will approach these discussions in Wellesley’s usual thoughtful and inclusive way, and in a way that is reflective of our longstanding values, and our mission.
To begin these discussions, the President’s Office will sponsor a range of community events this year (such as lectures, presentations, and panels), to explore what it means to be a women’s college at a time when the definition of gender is becoming more fluid. In addition, recognizing the importance of that fluidity, I will appoint a special advisory group this fall to consider and make specific recommendations to me and to the Board of Trustees on how Wellesley should best move forward on this issue, as an institution and as a community.
Certainly, there are many other implications to the question of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century—such as the one raised by Provost Shennan in his Convocation remarks concerning how to best support today’s liberal arts students in their transition to successful careers, especially in our changing world.