Alumnae reuning this year said again and again: "Talking with our student helpers about the courses they're taking and what they're studying, we wish we could come back and start all over."
The classes of 1938, 1953, 1963, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998 returned to campus for a weekend at the end of May.
As part of the Reunion 2003 theme of "Challenging Convention," founding directors of BrynMawr's interdisciplinary centers reported on their activities and programs, which bring together scholars from various fields, students and staff to examine diverse ways of thinking about areas of common interest.
Moderated by President of the College Nancy J. Vickers, a panel of three generations of alumnae also explored changes at Bryn Mawr in the curriculum, extra-curricular activities, diversity and opportunity in the past 50 years.
Kathy Ehlers Gabler '53, a pediatric cardiologist and professor at Cornell, laid the foundation for the latter discussion by offering the perspective of the 50th Reunion class. Gabler described Bryn Mawr's curriculum when 1953 matriculated and noted, "The education we received was rigorous and allowed us to develop the ability to think independently, analyze situations, derive solutions and express ourselves in the written word and less so orally. In fact, only in the senior year was there much emphasis on expressing our opinions."
Gabler came to Bryn Mawr planning to prepare for medical school and become a physician. She said she thought that while most of her classmates anticipated working after college, they did not expect to combine a career with marriage and family.
"This, of course, changed as women in the 1960s and '70s increasingly entered the workforce and became important contributors to the family livelihood and sometimes found themselves struggling as single parents due to divorce," she said. "Even if we did pursue a career or profession, the world was not always ready to accommodate us. ... Our world was truly run by the 'old boys'. ... The problems many of us faced were not a failing of the BMC curriculum but problems related to the world in which we found ourselves."
Anne Blaisdell Irvine '53 told the audience about her varied life path; she pursued four distinct careers and raised three children before joining the U.S. Foreign Service at the age of 56.
Members of 1953 disagreed about the extent to which their generation "made waves" concerning social issues. One said, "It was the McCarthy era and we were silenced." Another objected, "Academic freedom was not discreetly talked about; it was pushed by Miss McBride, who put her head on the block very willingly and articulately and invited Owen Lattimore (a China scholar accused by McCarthy of being a Soviet agent) to address the college community. We understood very clearly when we were listening to him what academic freedom was all about." (Lattimore also delivered the 1979 Convocation address.)
Other panelists were President of the Alumnae Association Marianne Pantano Rutter '74, an English major who went on to a career in marketing and publishing, and Michelle King '98, a biology major who graduated in May from American University Law School. Vickers noted that although the curriculum has evolved-particularly in response to technology, students' interest in field experience, and the interdisciplinary training of junior faculty-the integrity and values of a Bryn Mawr education remain the same.
Special class presentations during the weekend included a discussion with Barbara Viventi Howard '63, a principal investigator of the Women's Health Initiative, about hormone replacement therapy results from that trial. Alumnae toured building projects with Director of Facilities Services Glenn Smith and Campus Architect Chris Gluesing, on foot and virtually, viewing computerized plans for renovations to Dalton, Bettws-y-Coed, Thomas, Canaday, Goodhart, Schwartz Gymnasium, and conversion of the Roberts Road houses for student activity spaces.
Centers for the 21st century
Panel moderator Dale Kinney, professor of history of art and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, explained the origin and intent of Bryn Mawr's centers.
"The Plan for a New Century included the proposal to establish interdisciplinary centers that would create opportunities for departments, traditionally very strong at Bryn Mawr, to come together around emerging questions and fields of knowledge or inquiry that are at the intersection of two or more traditional disciplines," she said.
Individual centers have defined research agendas, produced publications, stimulated development of new courses, and awarded summer internships to undergraduates and funded faculty projects. All have sponsored conferences, lectures and colloquia around topics spanning the traditional disciplines.
Director of the Center for Visual Culture and Leslie Clark Professor in the Humanities, Steven Z. Levine, who will go on sabbatical next year (see p. 24), hands over the baton of director to Associate Professor of Art History Lisa Saltzman, who has spent the past year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Saltzman is writing a book on the techniques of contemporary visual art used in public projects of memorialization and will talk about her research in the first lecture of the Center's colloquium series this fall.
"Our Center gave Assistant Professor of Growth and Structure of Cities Carola Hein $10,000 to host an international conference at Bryn Mawr in November 2000 on the rebuilding of the bombed cities of Germany and Japan after World War II," Levine noted. "After 9/11, you can imagine how topical and even more interesting this seemed in retrospect.
"We at this moment are not only hearing about visual culture but enacting it. Paola Nogueras '84, who has documented Bryn Mawr reunions for more than a decade, has been taking photographs of us that will appear in a historical record of this event, on the web and in print, of who we were at this time." Nogueras has also given a lecture for the Center's colloquium series on her book about the festivals of Puerto Rico.
"Professor Emeritus Barbara Miller Lane prefigured the Center for Visual Culture by helping create in 1971 the interdisciplinary program,The Growth and Structure of Cities, which brings together the perspectives of architectural history and sociology, urbanism and economics, art and film," Levine said. "One of the happy outcomes of our interdisciplinary work of the last several years has been the establishment of a minor in film studies."
Paul Grobstein, Eleanor C. Bliss Professor of Biology and director of the Center for Science in Society, explained that it is "not concerned with science, which we have quite effectively and actively represented in a number of departments at Bryn Mawr.
"Our concern is to connect scientists and the rest of the world for the benefits of both. ... The general way that we go about this is by supporting and encouraging working groups of faculty, students and staff who recognize that there are topics where the perspective of any given discipline is inadequate to deal fully with the topic, and are themselves inclined to supplement their own perspectives on that topic with those from other disciplines and from outside the academic world.
"These working groups come into existence and disappear based on common interests among students, faculty and staff, so they are in flux at all times.
"A working principle of the Center is that these interdisciplinary conversations are to be made concrete, so they can be of use to other people. We therefore use our website to record and continue our conversations online. You can be a part of them, and prospective students can see the kinds of investigations in which they may become involved if they come to Bryn Mawr. (See more coverage of this Center's discussion groups.)
Associate Professor of Sociology Mary Osirim, co-director of the Center for Ethnicities, Communities and Social Policy, said that learning opportunities outside of the classroom that the Center has developed for students include participation in conferences and lectures, field trips and performance activities. "Our most important program to date has been grants to support student summer internships, six per year," she said.
"The mission and goals of our Center are to bring together the expertise of faculty from the social sciences, humanities, and the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research to explore questions about diverse communities in the United States and to examine questions of social policy: the nature of immigration in different regions and historical periods; the impact of social and economic discrimination on particular communities; conflict and cooperation among different racial and ethnic communities; and the role of government policy in areas such as education, employment, housing, and health care.
"I've been particularly impressed with not only the way the Center has attempted to bridge gaps between our various faculty constituencies, but also the way we've reached out to policy makers, activists and professionals well beyond the confines of our campus community. This was best seen in the two conferences we've co-sponsored with the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, in February 2002 on welfare reform and social justice, and this February on social justice and tax inequity in Philadelphia.
"Under the auspices of a grant that we received from the Ford Foundation this year, some faculty have received seed funds, which they can use to develop new research directions, particularly in preparation for their next sabbaticals. Other faculty have been stimulated to develop new courses as a result of their work with the Center."
Eunice M. Schenck 1907 Professor of French Grace Armstrong co-founded the Center for International Studies with Harvey Wexler Professor Emeritus of Economics Noel Farley. Armstrong has also worked with Farley since the establishment in 1980, with funding from Exxon Education Foundation and the International Paper Foundation, of Bryn Mawr's program in international economic relations, which helps prepare students skilled in languages for careers in international business or law.
"Over the past two years, the Center has sponsored lectures to foster understanding of and communication about serious events taking place in the international arena," Armstrong said.
Speakers have included former chief weapons inspector for the UN Special Commission in Iraq, Scott Ritter, an outspoken critic of military action there; Stephen Walt of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government; Mai Yamani '79 on the challenges of modernity facing Saudi Arabia after 9/11; and Rama Mani Hiffler '89 on seeking justice in the shadows of war.
Armstrong noted that the Center makes an effort to present balanced views. "If we invite someone to speak who's controversial, we also invite someone who's controversial from the opposite end of the spectrum," she said. "We had an enormous number of people from the local community in the audience, as well as from the student body, who gave Scott Ritter a run for his money. In that series of lectures on the war with Iraq, Stephen Walt gave a very different perspective, and we had a third speaker as well."
Return to Fall 2003 highlights