The Life of the Mind
"I viewed myself as having to overcome disadvantages that might hinder my success."
I entered Bryn Mawr in the Class of 1970 because of the College’s promise of providing a rigorous education for women. I was one of two Black students who majored in philosophy but never took advantage of the presence of an esteemed Marxist historian’s class on Black subjugation and the roots of current revolutionary theory. Due to my upbringing, I centered my studies on the Bryn Mawr mythology of “the life of the mind” that did not include the intellectual legacy of African and African diaspora scholars. Although I was a feminist, I did not study areas that pertained to my race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, and mental health.
I viewed myself as having to overcome disadvantages that might hinder my success. I was a lesbian who was afraid of being outed because of my sexual orientation. I was an African-American Jew who understood that racism and anti-Semitism might be significant barriers to my success. Furthermore, I worried that my episodes of debilitating depression would stand in the way of living to fulfill my idealistic vision for my future. Finally, I lacked the “connections” and resources wealthy individuals had that gave them a societal public bully pulpit. I doubted my ability to overcome these hindrances.
However, after Bryn Mawr, none of these difficulties stood in the way of my effort to live my ideals. After I graduated from Bryn Mawr, I worked in Philadelphia to empower poor African-Americans and other minorities with more social and economic resources.
Subsequently, I monitored $60 million in federal and city funds to address problems pertinent to impoverished minorities.
From there, I went on to help establish Section 8 housing subsidies, to test and educate people about sickle cell disease, and to start my consulting company before returning to academia.
Seven years after Bryn Mawr, I entered MIT to pursue my Ph.D. in political science. While writing my dissertation, I received MIT’s highest award to a graduate student for “conspicuously effective teaching.”
Following MIT, I became a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy. I was also a Ford Foundation fellow early in my career.
Finally, I became a professor at the University of New Hampshire, joining the department of Women’s and Gender Studies. I co-edited an anthology on Black women intellectuals of the 19th century and became the first Black recipient of UNH’s Excellence in Teaching award and several social justice awards, including one for my efforts to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community at UNH. In 2010, I became the first African- American woman to be tenured in UNH’s 200-year history. I left the university in 2016 as associate professor emerita after teaching not only women’s studies but also courses on gender, race, sexual orientation, and class in media.
While these achievements reflect Bryn Mawr’s influence on my idealistic vision of a future worth living, they also highlight the evolution of my acceptance of myself. The parts of my identity which I had hidden as an undergraduate have become the things about which I am most passionate and are at the forefront of my work as a scholar.
As I am in the process of writing my memoir, I am both actively reflecting on my journey from fearing the exposure of my identity to embracing all of my complexities and discovering the ways I can help others change society and themselves.
This issue of the Alumnae Bulletin presents reflections from Black alumnae/i and students spanning 65 years in the life of the College.