A Weekend Among Friends

The glorious fall weather was picture-perfect this past weekend, as I welcomed to campus Wellesley parents, grandparents, siblings, alumnae, and friends for Family and Friends Weekend and Homecoming.

sophomore treeOne of the highlights of the weekend, as always, was celebrating one of Wellesley’s oldest traditions: sophomore tree planting. On Saturday, more than 150 students and their families gathered on the Academic Quad to dedicate the Quercus Rubra, or Red Oak, that the Class of 2016 had chosen as their tree.

At the Wellesley Debates this past weekend, Paulina Perlin ’16, Prerana Nanda ’14, Simone Thibodeau ’14, and Mariya Getsova ’15 debated the topic “The structure of the higher education system in the United States is not consistent with democratic values,” while Sophia Mo ’14 moderated. As always, the students did an excellent job of presenting arguments for or against the motion. The before- and after-balloting indicated that those debating against the motion swayed the audience with their arguments.

For me, the weekend is also a wonderful show of our school pride during our many athletic contests. I was happy to cheer on the Blue as they took on Cedar Crest in soccer, winning 9-0. Congratulations also to the residents of Pomeroy, who had the most Superfans at that game.

Family and Friends weekend was enhanced this year by Pam Melroy’s wonderful talk on Saturday night: From Wellesley to the International Space Station. A Wellesley alumna (class of 1983), and an astronaut who has logged over 900 hours in space, Pam Melroy was only the second woman to command a space shuttle. I am grateful to Pam, who also is a Wellesley Trustee, for returning to Wellesley to speak to students and their families about her experiences. She is always enlightening and engaging and, despite her profession, very much down to earth.

My thanks go to all of the students, families, faculty, staff, and alumnae who made the weekend such a success.



Debating Political Extremism

The ability to engage in thoughtful discourse, the ability to take a position and defend it– to debate effectively– is one of the many outcomes of a liberal arts education. Last night I enjoyed, as I always do, seeing students practice these important skills during The Wellesley Debates. The topic debated was: Political Extremists are Destructive to American Progress.

Those arguing against the motion stressed, among other points, the formative influence of previous political extremists (our founding fathers and leaders of the suffrage and civil rights movements). Among the points made by those arguing for the motion was the paralysis that comes to government from the lack of willingness to compromise for the public good. Both sides made many excellent points and it was a lively and interesting debate. The before- and after-balloting revealed that those arguing against the motion gained adherents following the debate.

The students did an impressive job last night: Nicole Blansett ’15 and Melanie Kaplan ’12 argued for the motion, while Belgin Palaz ’12 and Maggie Polacheck ’12 argued against it. Veronica Martinez ’13 moderated.

Modeled after the Oxford-Union Debates, The Wellesley Debates promote an exchange of ideas that is both vigorous and thoughtful on controversial topics of local, national, and international interest.

I am proud to be part of an intellectual community that engages in such a discourse. The ability to hear and learn from a diversity of opinions– even ones you may not agree with– is central to the Wellesley experience.

Debate: Single-Sex Institutions are Discriminatory and Illegal

The Wellesley Debates are one of my favorite events here on campus. Certainly, they are an important component of our intellectual community. It is not about who wins or loses the debate; it is about exercising the right to express and listen to diverse viewpoints, even if those views are unpopular. Judging from the Q&A after Monday night’s debate, the speakers captured the interest and attention of the audience.

Prior to the event, everyone in the audience voted by secret ballot for or against the motion that single-sex institutions are discriminatory and illegal. After the formal debates, they were asked to vote again. Pre-debate, the majority of the audience was against the motion, meaning they did not believe that single-sex institutions were discriminatory or illegal. The post-debate ballot showed that a number of those against the motion changed their minds—demonstrating the power of a persuasive argument.

Many thanks to all those who were involved in the debates: Jaimie Crumley ’12 and Samantha Flattery ’14, who argued persuasively for the motion; Hannah Allen ’12 and Sophia Mo ’14, who argued equally persuasively against it; Belgin Palaz ’12, moderator and chair of the coordinating committee, who kept everything moving efficiently and fairly; Veronica Martinez ’13 and Catherine Vatikiotis ’13, members of the coordinating committee, who organized the event; and Tom Cushman, sociology professor, who advises the debates and has done so since he first proposed the Wellesley Debates in 2008.

The Wellesley Debates are modeled after the famous Oxford-Union debates, including the well-known pre- and post-debate balloting. Previous topics for debate at Wellesley were American Hegemony is a Good Thing (Fall 2008), Institutional Multiculturalism is Detrimental to a Liberal Arts Education (Spring 2009), Profiling Practices Strengthen National Security (Spring 2010), and Affirmative Action is Detrimental to a Meritocratic Society (Fall 2010).