Gathering for the first Black
alumnae/i conference at the College in
more than a decade, 75 alumnae/i
from the classes of 1959 to 2007 and
the Graduate School of Social Work
and Social Research spent an
exuberant weekend reconnecting with
the campus community, renewing old
bonds, and relating shared experiences.
Alumnae/i attended classes and workshops, held discussions with students and administrators about diversity initiatives, networked, and shared memories over meals. At a plenary session ending the weekend, they resolved to take an agenda to the U.S. president- and vice president-elect and Congress stating their concerns as Black alumnae/i of Bryn Mawr College. Lobbyist Anita R. Estell, who held a workshop during the conference (see story: "Why Lobby?") will provide training. Estell represents many organizations, including the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute, the Natural Museum of Women's History, African American Women's Fund, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute,Mark Twain Museum, and the National Association of Social Workers.
Linda Hill '77, a trustee of the College and co-chair of the conference, told alumnae, "Anita said that the Black community works to get out the vote but doesn't necessarily hold elected officials accountable, and that Black women as a group have not made what matters to them obvious to the candidates of both parties. It is our right as citizens to do this." The group listed possible agenda items and root cause issues. A committee has been formed to prepare a report. "What issues do we need to be educating ourselves about?" asked Hill. "What's the unique proposition about us as Bryn Mawr alumnae?"
Alumnae/i decided to pursue three other initiatives; establishing a national affinity group of Bryn Mawr Black alumnae/i, raising a minimum of $25,000 by May 2010 to fund summer internships for students who are members of Sisterhood or BACaSO (Bryn Mawr African and Caribbean Students' Organization), and supporting career and professional development for students and alumnae. Approximately $6,900 has been raised, enough to fund two internships in the summer of 2009. To contribute, see The Black Alumnae Fund.
The weekend began with classroom
visits, a tour of the renovated studentactivities
village on Roberts Road, and
an hour-long session with students,
faculty and staff about diversity issues
on campus. Assistant Professor of Social
Work Kevin J. Robinson spoke about
his community-based participatory
research and partnering with faithbased
organizations to effect change. Luvon Roberson '74 conducted a tea
sitting and discussion about Anarcha,
Betsy, Lucy and numerous other
unnamed slave women who underwent
surgery without anesthesia performed
by D. J.Marion Sims, the father of
modern gynecology. Their suffering and
pain led to the invention of today's
surgical and gynecologic tools and
procedures. Roberson is the founder of
The High Tea Sisters™, whose
members study and discuss over
signature brews how Black women in
history contributed to many advances
in this country in the face of slavery
Alumnae/i also met President of the College Jane McAuliffe, who moderated a panel discussion of current students and made an address at the celebratory dinner.McAuliffe recalled participating in civil rights activities as a college student in Washington, D.C., and attending meetings of SNIP, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. "I was there on the Mall for the March on Washington when Martin Luther King gave his address, which was one of the most formative things that I've heard in my life,"McAuliffe recalled.
When she began graduate work in religion a decade later and became interested in the differences and similarities between Islam and Christianity, she saw"another way in which we could begin to achieve some kind of understanding between groups of people that had long been separated.
"I've been impressed at how intentional the efforts at community building are at Bryn Mawr, through the admissions process, diversity leadership, and through our students.My work at Georgetown was largely in creating and enhancing the diversity of our faculty. Here I know that I can be involved in much broader conversations."
During panel discussions about diversity at Bryn Mawr as a "work in progress," deans of the undergraduate College and Graduate School of Social Work and Research, the provost, and members of the College's Diversity Leadership Group talked about recruitment and retention on the undergraduate and graduate levels, faculty, and student life today.
"Back in the 1920s, we had the first Black student at Bryn Mawr," said cochair Willa Seldon '82. "She had a challenging experience. She left after a week and asked that her name be removed from the rolls, so we know very little about her. Our first Black graduate was Enid Cook in 1931, and our second Lillian Russell in 1934. It's appropriate that we begin today with our most important constituents on campus, the students."
Panelists were seniors Teyvonia Thomas, a physics major with a minor in computer science from Montego Bay, Jamaica; Rachel Awkward, a sociology major and education minor from Baltimore,Maryland; Josephine Karanjahi, a growth and structure of cities major with a minor in economics, from Nairobi, Kenya; and Elise Nelson, a growth and structure of cities major from Columbus, Ohio. They told alumnae why they had chosen to attend Bryn Mawr, how their courses of study had evolved, and about the work of African American, African and Caribbean students to understand their differences. "Before we arrived, we did not have the identity of ‘Black students on campus'," said Karanjahi. "We were from‘this region or that region.' Especially being international, your attitude is ‘I'm just here to study.'When we walk out of the group, we're all Black, but we're at such different levels." Nelson said, "I think one of the differences is how you react to the greater White society. African American women process things differently than women coming from other places, and that's the biggest struggle."
During the weekend, students and administrators referred to the turning point of a racially-charged party invitation that was posted by Bryn Mawr students on Facebook in the spring of 2007. The incident prompted a teach-in organized by faculty, and a town meeting called by students attended by nearly 300 people in driving snow and rain. One result was the creation of a successful social justice pilot program, now in its second year. Small groups of students meet on a regular basis to talk about issues, facilitated by peers, upperclasswomen, faculty and staff.
Four service awards were given to honor
the historical legacy and accomplishments
of Black faculty and staff, and
special recognition was given to longtime
members of the Housekeeping Staff.
Honorees were Florence Goff, associate chief information officer and Equal Opportunity Officer; Ruth Mayden,M.S.S. '70, director for the Program for Families with Young Children at The Annie E. Casey Foundation; Dolores Norton, M.S.S. '60, Ph.D. '69, trustee emeritus of the College and Samuel Deutsch Professor in the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) at the University of Chicago; and sociology professor Robert Washington.
Tributes to the honorees may be read and posted at: http://blackalumnae conference.blogs.brynmawr.edu.
Beginning in December 2006,
gatherings were held for Black
alumnae in D.C., Philadelphia, New
York, Boston and San Francisco to
gather ideas for the conference. "I am
filled with joy that this dream could
come true," said Program Chair Nia
Turner '05, who attended the
gatherings. "Networking is important
for all Mawrters, but this weekend we
have so many jewels, and we each have
something valuable to contribute and
the students can benefit from hearing
about your work experiences and how
you handled situations on campus."
The planning committee included 38 alumnae, Professor of Social Work and Diversity Leadership Group Chair Raymond Albert; and from the Alumnae Association, Assistant Director Cynthia Washington and Executive Director Wendy M. Greenfield.
"I am leaving today feeling very encouraged, empowered and enlightened," wrote Andrea Roche Fray '05.