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.
Last week, Wellesley launched the Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion Initiative with a wonderful, community-wide daylong event: “Be Inspired by Difference: Create Community.”
At the working lunch that day, I spoke about how I personally have been inspired by difference, and also how I have felt included at Wellesley since I began my presidency.
As I have written here previously, I spoke about the candlelight service held at Wellesley last year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I recall being moved by the service in Houghton Chapel, where we heard the many voices of our community speaking about the tragedy— peers, colleagues, and friends—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, and Hindu. As the Wellesley Choir sang “Hope,” we all took a candle and formed a circle in the Chapel. We were together, as one, in our moment of remembering. Wayne and I walked home through the dark night with only the candle lighting our path. That moment will forever be embedded in my memory. It’s important to take the time to savor the experience—to reflect and think.
I also spoke about being inspired by the ways in which we in this community care deeply for one another and for Wellesley. When I came to Wellesley College, I was different from Wellesley’s most recent previous presidents. I wasn’t an alumna. I didn’t attend a small liberal arts college. And I didn’t go to a women’s college. I came from a big research university and my home base there was in a medical school. I told the following story about being made to feel a part of life here:
On my first day on campus, I decided to take a walk. It was raining and so, without thinking, I grabbed an umbrella at random and enjoyed my walk along the then unfamiliar paths. Not long after that, a group of student leaders gave me a care package. The care package included a Wellesley umbrella with a note that said, “President Bottomly: You can’t be walking across campus with a Yale umbrella!” The students had noticed my faux pas and they did something about it with grace and humor. I was grateful, and amused. The care package also included a sign for me to use on my first Marathon Monday. It said, “Kiss me. I’m the President.” I have never used the sign, of course, but still cherish the gift and the good-humored, inclusive thought behind it.
Very early on, I was made to feel included in this community. I am very glad the Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion Initiative is being made to ensure that everyone is.