Alumnae gather for discourse and debate in Istanbul

Istanbul, the only city in the world to stand on two continents, was the site of Bryn Mawr’s first regional conference for alumnae/i in Europe this June. The program, under the rubric of “Excavating Old and New Identities,” was a feast for the minds and eyes of some 200 attendees from 14 different European countries, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the United States. But what meant most to many alumnae/i was to be, as one said, “among people who share, to a great extent, common ideals.”

“I was called ‘forceful’ one time too many shortly before I came to the conference,” wrote Lucia Nixon ’71, an archaeologist and lecturer at Magdelen College, Oxford, after the event. “Then, for five days, with other Mawrtyrs, I was normal. It was wonderful. This is not a joke. One forgets just how liberating it is to be out of environments (and there are many) in which women with any conspicuous opinions or ability are somehow stigmatized.”

“A core group of enthusiastic alumnae in Istanbul, led by Nayla Ghandour de Coster ’79 and Perran Ersu ’81, originally proposed the city as a site for the conference and worked to secure spectacular venues,” said Betty Vermey ’58, director of Bryn Mawr’s Office for International Initiatives, which organized the event. Several alumnae/i archaeologists living in Turkey put together a symposium honoring Bryn Mawr archaeologist Machteld J. Mellink. A third group of alumnae from across Europe planned a seminar on “The New Europe.” President of the College Nancy J. Vickers also attended, making her first visit to alumnae/i overseas.

‘The New Europe’

“There are at least two things that those of us gathered here have in common: a Bryn Mawr education and a multicultural lifestyle,” wrote Dierdre Berger ’75 for conference participants. “All of us have experience learning to live in other cultures, expanding our borders of knowledge and our cultural sensitivities. This flexibility to shuttle between two or more cultures has put us in the forefront of the New Europe.”

Berger, former bureau chief for National Public Radio in Frankfurt, was to lead a panel of alumnae and Bryn Mawr faculty in a discussion on the changing demographic, economic and social environments in Europe. She was not able to attend, but her introductory remarks on changes in Europe over the last two decades were read aloud.

Asked to begin by commenting on the meaning of borders at this time in our history, Harvey Wexler Professor of Economics Noel J. J. Farley noted that first-year international students in his new Bryn Mawr course, “GATT, NAFTA, the EU and all that,” are overwhelmingly concerned with questions of borders. Among the issues that caused lively debate in the course were: “What business has the International Monetary Fund telling South Korean banks how to conduct their loan activity?” “Should a European government be forced to limit the deficits on their budgets to 3 percent per annum?”

“The students’ focus is more at the micro than at the global level,” Farley said, “and for them, the nation state is still the best prospect as a legitimate authority over a whole range of economic, political, cultural and social matters. ...

“But then we pull ourselves up short. ... Is it possible that world sentiment is pulling away from the use of government organization at the local and national levels?” he asked.

Farley charted the progress of monetary union and possible gains for the European Union. He is “ultimately optimistic” that the EU will stay together: “In the longer haul when the member states can move beyond their sense of membership in an economic and security community to full political union, they will then reap all the economic benefits and exercise the global political influence that goes along with monetary union.”

Dardis McNamee ’71, an American who has been living and working in Austria for several years, first as a speech writer at the United States Embassy and presently as Vienna correspondent for the Dow Jones News Wires, discussed the future of work in Europe. As European economies adapt to a common currency and global markets, some predict, their governments may no longer be able to maintain welfare states. Women, and even more so single mothers, who tend to move back and forth between part-time and full-time employment as well as between categories of jobs, risk losing social supports. McNamee argued that the relationship between the market and the labor force must be restructured without sacrificing a system of shared values that supports the family and provides the promise of an education and livelihood for the next generation of children in Europe.

Looking out the windows of a model of the Trojan Horse (the horse’s head continues at top right of photo) during a post-conference visit to the excavations at Troy are, clockwise from top left: Janet Sproule, P.S. ’78; her daughter, Alison Sproule; Cynthia Grund ’77; and Brian Rose, Haverford ’78, an excavation director at the site.

Azade Seyhan, Fairbank Professor in the Humanities and Professor of German and Comparative Literature, has written extensively on the cultural memory of immigrants. She has focused in particular on the writing of Turkish-born women who live and work in Germany and who write about this home country from their perspective as an outsider by choice.

Seyhan commented, “If language is the single most important determinant of national identity, as many have argued, and if narratives (epics/novels) institute and support national myths and shape national consciousness, what happens when the domain of national language is occupied by non-native writers? Once we accept the interdependency of contemporary linguistic and literary experiences, then history and geography are transfigured in new maps and dialogic links. The work of Turkish-German writers presents us with a paradigm of writing outside the nation and of reimagined cultures and nationalisms in an age of large-scale migrations and transitions in today’s Europe.”

Also representing Bryn Mawr, Director of the Arts Michael Isador performed chamber music for piano and violin with Ole Böhn, Concertmaster of the Royal Norwegian Opera.

John Freely, author of Strolling Through Istanbul and many other books for travelers in Turkey, spoke for about an hour on the history and principal sites of the city. He led a small group on a walking tour of buildings designed or commissioned by women.

En route to Çiragan Palace: Phoebe Albert Driscoll ’54, Nancy J. Vickers, Lee Driscoll, Wendy Tiffin ’55. After a gala dinner at the palace, Talat Halman, Turkey’s first Minister of Culture, gave a witty talk on the connections between Bryn Mawr, Turkey and Europe. He was introduced by Suna Kili ’46, M.A. ’49, Ph.D. ’52, professor of political science and constitutional law at Bogazici University, Istanbul. Below: During a reception at the Sadberk Hanim Museum hosted by Semahat Koc Arsel are, at far left, Simona Folescu ’93 and Azade Seyhan; at far right, Farimah Daftary ’89 and Polly Osell Kienle ’89.

Eight Decades of Bryn Mawrtyrs in Europe: What have we been doing here?

This collection of 66 letters, written by alumnae/i in Europe in response to a letter sent prior to the Istanbul conference, offers a wealth of information and insight, and great variety in their style, length and contents. The 140-page book may be ordered by sending $17 plus $5 for mailing within Europe ($22 total) or $8 for mailing outside Europe ($25 total) to:
Ellen Vestergaard
Osterbrogade 104,5
DK-2100 Denmark

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