Proceedings of the Conference

Below you will find a transcription of Catharine Stimpson’s (Bryn Mawr, class of 1958) remarks from the final “Heritage and Hope” luncheon on September 25, 2010 in Thomas Great Hall. With equal  measures of panache and precision, Stimpson offers a brief overview of   the conference’s working groups and gestures toward the conference's  recurring themes. She received a standing ovation for her pithy "E's"   and after you read through this, you will know why.

As we begin to edit the conference panel videos and receive other transcriptions, we will be updating this page with further materials. Stay tuned.

“Heritage and Hope” Conference, September 25, 2010, Bryn Mawr College
Summation: Working Group Recommendations and Themes
Catharine Stimpson
Professor, New York University

You should enjoy the 125th anniversary cupcakes that are on your tables, but before you do so, I think we need a round of applause for the men and women who have cooked for us, and who have served us, and who will clean up after we leave. Thank you.

Now, I am going to speak quickly, because we have a lot to do in a very few minutes. So I beg your indulgence for going too fast. Take my name, Kate Stimpson; take the initial K, take the initial S. K means kindness. S means being succinct. Kindness lies in being succinct. I will ask Susie Bourque of Smith College, a conference facilitator and no-one with whom to mess, to keep track of time and drag me off the podium when my minutes are up. We must be done by 1:10 p.m. I don’t want to keep people from hearing one minute of Nicholas Kristof, our final keynoter, a great journalist and humanitarian, who has with his wife taught us about the path from oppression to opportunity for women. He is, in the most sincere sense of the word, a “noble man.”

Let me first offer thanks, then suggest what the overarching theme of our conference has been, then report on the recommendations of the working groups in which you have all participated, and finally, give my summary of the conference as a whole The leaders and facilitators of the working groups were fabulous, and made their summaries really short for me. Later, you will be able to see their full statements. Facilitators, if I foul up what you talked about, I expect amendments from the floor.

Our shared thanks, of course, go to Bryn Mawr College, and to its president Jane McAuliffe, and to everyone who has worked so hard to support this tremendous undertaking. Last night I rode back from the Franklin Institute to our hotel with Jen, a junior here, who had been our guardian angel on the buses from morning to night. She must have wanted the day to end, but with real sweetness and charm, she courteously answered my professorial, auntie questions about her favorite poets.

I also want to express my personal gratitude to this college. It took a provincial girl from Bellingham, Washington, whose gaga nickname was “Dodie.” All of you here who knew me at Bryn Mawr—like Betsy Havens—called me Dodie. This college taught me how to sing in Greek and how to weep as I read Shakespeare in this very Great Hall of Thomas Library. This college helped this girl, transformed this girl, and set her on the road to Cambridge. I will never, never, never forget this place. Do you know what it was like to go to Bellingham High School? Where I belonged to the Pep Club and went to football games in the rain on Friday night? Where I sang, “Rah rah rah rah for Bellingham High!” And then to go from that to lead the May Day dance to the May Poles? I can still do the hop that took us to the green.

So what was our deep theme during our conference days together? Justice, justice, justice. Justice in education and justice through education. Justice in education and justice through education. More specifically, we looked at education by all women and girls, for all women and girls, and with all women and girls and our male allies and friends. Because M. Carey Thomas so occupies the stage of Bryn Mawr’s history, we tend to forget that the first president was a man, James Rhoads. And I thank my friends in the audience for giving me his correct name. Even more specifically, we explored education led by women’s institutions and women-center institutions—be they the elite women’s colleges or the network of Catholic colleges or literacy groups or training in micro-finance. During the late 20th century in the United States, people were listening for the death rattle of the women’s colleges, but now we are hearing the buoyant rattle of life, here and abroad. In her talk, Carol Christ helpfully told us about the number of women’s colleges that are being founded in country after country. The pioneering spirit that created women’s colleges in the 19th century is alive and well. Clearly, these efforts for justice in education and justice through education, our heritage and our hope, are global. The work in the United States is part of global webs and networks.

But globalization does not mean homogeneity. We are not stuck together in a blob. We cannot all be poured into the same cake mold or even cupcake mold. Globally and locally, many, many differences exist among us. This means that we must always ask how do people locally define their needs? Give voice to their needs? We must be wary of universalizing mission statements. And this is what it means to have a voice, to say, “These are my needs, and these are my difficulties, and these are my remedies, and these are my hopes, and these are my desires.”

Now let me turn to the summaries of the facilitated working groups. Some of the groups merged and produced one report. Some produced two reports. For the latter, I will say “a” and “b.” Here we go:

1. Women’s institutions as change agents. This group encourages us to set millennial goals, but do what we do well. One thing that women’s institutions have done well—for example, St. Catherine University, St. Kate’s—is to increase access. Indeed, we are getting better at access. We need to use a website as a common public sphere and give out a lot of information, especially about opportunities for alumnae and about scholarships domestically and internationally. If the U.S. government no longer provides a library and information services abroad, put material on this website. That brilliant young woman on a bike in Malaysia who discovered she could go to Smith or Bryn Mawr in a U.S. office (Hoon Eng Khoo) can now go online to make these discoveries.

2. Public policy, access, and equity. Let’s not, this merged group urges, forget that we are colleges and universities. We are places of learning and of research. We should use a website for research and data on gender as well as for access to funding opportunities. We all do women’s studies. Let’s place this on the web. But we must get at intersectionality. (Intersectionality: this is a psychological and sociocultural theory, which Kimberly Crenshaw first articulated in the mid-1980s, that asserts that race, class, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation meet on the site of our identities, sometimes colliding, sometimes creating rip tides and cross-currents.) This group also said, “Find a strategic niche. We can’t be all things to all people.” What do we do well, who are we?

3. Global collaboration and social justice, Group A. This workshop wants us to support collaborations on a grassroots level. It, too, hopes for a website as a clearing house for data, and recommends that we ask a group of international students to put it up. Our students are born with a mouse in their hands. (In contrast, I was so dumb, when e-mail first came in, I would write out @ as “at” and wonder why the messages were coming back. That ignorance has receded, but not vanished.) However, avoid redundancies with other groups. Finally, show undergraduates the career opportunities in women’s education.

4. Global collaboration and social justice, Group B. The women’s colleges should make a public statement about the education of disadvantaged women and girls as the key to global development. They should also create sites of interaction where alumnae, students, faculty, and communities can learn about service opportunities in education for women and girls. Affinity groups can be built up to help with specific projects, e.g. fundraising. This group also drew up a statement about important values to which all participants should have access. The key is that collaborations and exchanges are a two-way street. This is not one voice and one auditor, but two or more voices and two or more auditors.

5. Girls’ learning and leadership. Set up, we are told, a collaboration with Bryn Mawr and the girls’ schools in the area, including that Young Women’s Leadership School at Rhodes High School. There should also be collaboration among Bryn Mawr alumnae who are teachers, students, and schools abroad. Why can’t they share the curriculum? Moreover, soon both Smith and Emma Willard will sponsor conferences on women’s education. Can those institutions build on what happened here and have a cumulative effect? Let’s not re-invent the wheel. Can’t we send a spaceship among the three conferences as if we were galactic travelers?

6. Gender and the academy. Please, we are being asked urgently, expand our notions of what is meant by the academy. We must have conversations about race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Moreover, the academy is not just scholars. It is also artists, performers, and staff. It is a big, porous community, more than the people who put on hoods and caps and gowns at graduation. Use “radical imagination”—as ancestors did in the 19th century and the 20th century—in order to re-invent ourselves. Try to be more flexible and seriously address work-life issues—as we have again and again. I must confess that I’m so sick of hearing about them. The fact that I am so sick of it means it is still there. Use my nausea as a symptom. Look for lessons that are to be learned elsewhere, in other countries and in corporations. We don’t have all the answers here. Finally, we need honest conversations about international collaborations. We don’t all bring the same values to the table. NYU has a campus in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi and Greenwich Village—how are you going to work that out?

7. Entrepreneurship and empowerment. Mentoring is vital, but, this workshop suggests, start locally, e.g. support Rhodes High School. Create how-do-you mentor educational programs for all in the Greater Philadelphia area, including men in them. Next, expand internship opportunities, here and abroad. When interns return, have them speak to schools such as Rhodes and other under-resourced schools. The members of one of the entrepreneurship and empowerment working groups will be e-mailing each other to see how they can continue the work begun here. In general, use an internet site to match needs and resources.

May I thank the facilitators for organizing and compressing the recommendations for action of their working groups? But now, how can I summarize all our ideas? I have tried to do so by finding eight major ideas, all organized around the letter “E” in the English alphabet. Please don’t think it was easy. Obviously “education” is the “E” that reigns over the other eight.

1. The first “e” is excellence. Let’s do what we can do well—with integrity, respect for the job, and good designs. Let’s not do things on the cheap, in a cut-rate fashion. And, as several of the working groups said, let’s not step all over each other, in a flurry of misguided redundancy.

2. The second “e” is equity. Let’s share equity as an ideal. Obviously, if we have equity, some people will lose power and status. Some people should lose power and status. Some people—whether they are cruel or just everyday dominators—must change. Violence against women must not be an equal opportunity for men. I don’t weep for a second about the loss of status and power for anyone who beats a woman or a child. Strip them of their power as they strip women and children of their clothing before they beat them.

Equity also means money. How will we support efforts for greater financial equity for women? And how will those with no equity whatsoever gain it? Education is a path to equity. What does it cost to get on that path? And to stay on it?

3. The third “e” is empowerment. How will all women be empowered to seek the equity they desire and deserve? I speak not of power, but of empowerment. There is a difference between them.

4. The fourth “e” is engagement, to be an active part of the world. Crucially, generating research and scholarship and ideas can exhibit engagement. Maya Ajmera in her panel presentation spoke wonderfully about recognizing her “moment of obligation.” She was talking about the beginning of engagement.
5. The fifth “e” is electronic. Every group mentions creating and using websites. I need say no more.

6. The sixth “e” is experimentation. We must experiment. Some of our experiments will fail. How many times did Newton make a mistake before he came up with the laws of gravity? There is a reason for the phrase, “trial and error.” Some of our experiments will succeed. Because some of our traditions are good, our task is to balance livable traditions with life as a laboratory. We won’t know how to do this unless we try.

7. The seventh “e” is endurance. Our work is not for the faint of heart. It is not easy. It is not for flibbertigibbets. Last night, during her keynote address at the dinner at the Franklin Institute, Melanne Verveer told the story of Charlotte Woodward, a young glove-maker who went to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. She was the only signatory of the “Declaration of Sentiments” at Seneca Falls who lived to see the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote in 1920. We do what we can while we are here on earth, so that others may benefit after our death.

8. The eighth “e” is excitement, the exhilarating feeling of possibility, the wildness in the wild patience of which Adrienne Rich wrote in her line about the wild patience that had taken her this far. Excitement also means we can fun. I loved it when we walked into Goodhart Hall this morning and heard music playing. Someone at the lunch tables for working group facilitators reminded us of Emma Goldman’s phrase that she didn’t want to join a revolution if she couldn’t dance. Well, I am not a revolutionary. I am a nice, down the middle of the road, Bryn Mawr graduate who has occasionally had her slightly subversive moments, but I do believe we can dance. We don’t have to be blowsy and frowsy and dour.

In succinct summary, the eight “E’s” that might unite us under the “E” of education are excellence, equity, empowerment, engagement, the electronic, experimentation, endurance, and excitement. Now please join me in a thought game. See that capital E in your mind. You have a long vertical bar and three horizontal bars jutting out from the right. Now give that “E” a quarter turn to the right. Now you have a long horizontal bar with three vertical bars jutting down from it. This is the shape of a rake or of a digger’s fork, the shape of the instruments we use to plant and nurture soil, be it a field of food or of flowers. So let’s take our tools, and till our fields, and seed our gardens. Let’s go to work.

Thank you all so very much.



"I am . . . much aware of the world's dilemma. People's effect on other people results, it seems to me, in an enforced sense of responsibility— a compulsory obligation to participate in others' problems."

Marianne Moore, class of 1909, Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet »