For Starters

Commencement. Virtual Bryn Mawr. The Sounds of COVID-19. The New (Ab)normal.

1. Pomp and Circumstances

The Class of 2020 will celebrate an on-campus, in-person Commencement in the spring of 2021. But to mark a milestone day, the College hosted a virtual event on May 16 that was developed in consultation with the graduating class. Dressed in full academic regalia but speaking to a virtual audience, President Kim Cassidy delivered a heartfelt graduation address via video. “I’m so deeply proud of all of you,” she said. “You have embodied core Bryn Mawr qualities of academic rigor, passion for learning, and personal resilience in circumstances that have tested those qualities beyond what anyone could ever have expected. While many of you have shared with me that you don’t like it—and who can blame you—you are living history.” The celebration ended with congratulations from more than 200 faculty and staff across the Bryn Mawr community, who had recorded messages from their homes and their backyards.

2. A New Provost

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In May, President Kim Cassidy announced the appointment of Russian Professor Tim Harte to the position of provost at the College. “Tim brings a breadth of leadership experience across many critical areas of the College,” Cassidy said, “as well as a deep commitment to our core teaching and research mission and to advancing equity and inclusion across the College.” Harte’s record of service is impressive: chair of the curriculum committee and the Russian department, co-director of the Russian Flagship program, member of the academic priorities committee and Bi-Co comparative literature steering committee, acting director of film studies, Posse mentor, and faculty athletics representative. Harte will take over the position from Professor of Sociology Mary Osirim, who served as acting provost from 2013 to 2015 and provost from 2015 to 2020. During this academic year, she will assist Harte through the transition.

3. Recognition

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In her current book project, The Poetics of Difference: Queer Feminist Forms in the African Diaspora, Professor of English Mecca Jamilah Sullivan is exploring the social and political resonances of formally subversive works by contemporary women writers, performers, and artists of the African diaspora.

“Since the height of the post-civil rights and decolonization movements,” Sullivan explains, “black women poets and artists have actively engaged in a politically rooted experimentalism that remains underexplored in contemporary scholarship.”

In recognition of her scholarship, Sullivan was recently awarded a Career Enhancement Fellowship, designed to support faculty members committed to eradicating racial disparities in core fields in the arts and humanities.

4. From China, With Love

In April, Bryn Mawr families in China arranged for a donation of almost 30,000 disposable surgical masks for distribution to students and essential staff still on campus. Spearheaded by Rongrong and Neo Shen P’22, the effort was joined by 106 families in China. “The world is a whole. People around the world are as one,” says Rongrong Shen. “It goes without saying that we should all help each other out. Distance can’t stop us from caring.” “The heartfelt outpouring of support from the Bryn Mawr community during this difficult time is incredibly uplifting,” says Kate Morro, director of principal gifts and international engagement. After providing for on-campus distribution, Chief Financial Officer Kari Fazio gave the balance to two local medical services: Main Line Health and Narberth Ambulance.

5. Virtual Bryn Mawr

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Mawrters didn’t let a pandemic stop them from dancing, running, curating, and even job hunting. Here are just some of their innovations:

  • Bethany Formica Bender’s modern dance course met on Zoom (above). “Dance has the power to move people, to heal people, to enrich and empower communities, and connect us socially,” Bender says.
  • To get Mawrters up and running for a virtual 5K in May, the athletics department provided a downloadable training plan.
  • The Center for Visual Culture expanded its colloquia series online with Excavations/Collaborations, a series of virtual screenings featuring contemporary artists.
  • The Career & Civic Engagement Center hosted two online panels featuring Recession-era alums who offered support and tactical advice to the Class of 2020.

6. The Sounds of COVID-19

“The laughter of children in playgrounds, the swish of soccer balls, the clinks of food service, the loud banter of pedestrians, the traffic of cars, scooters, bicycles, and buses all went silent. They were replaced by the rumble of trucks spraying disinfectant, the sirens of police patrols and ambulances, and the beat of helicopters transporting people and goods.” —Min Kyung Lee, Assistant Professor of Growth and Structure of Cities, on being quarantined in Italy.

7. A 360° Makes a 180°

Over spring break, the Migrations 360° was scheduled to travel to Arizona, California, and Mexico for a firsthand look at how borders impact migration patterns and everyday lives.

“When we first heard about the cancellation of the trip, we entered planning mode almost immediately,” says Charley Mestrich ’22.

The class looked for new, nearby opportunities that would provide insight into the issue of migration.

The itinerary they crafted took them on a mural tour of North Philadelphia with Mural Arts, which works with communities to create murals that transform public spaces. A visit to the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion featured lessons about migratory butterflies, a symbol of the immigrant rights movement. The cluster also attended a performance by Ballet Folklórico Yaretzi, witnessed hearings at Philadelphia’s immigration court, visited the Mexican Muralists exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York City, and gathered to make tamales together in the SGA kitchen.

“This was important to us because we were going to learn how to make tamales with a group of women in Tijuana,” Mestrich says. “It was nice to still have that community-building time, as well as learn something we were going to learn in Mexico.”

Although the changes imposed on the cluster’s agenda were dramatic, a strong sense of community—along with determination, creativity, and a desire to learn—meant students transformed travel restrictions into an opportunity to learn more about each other and immigration in the Philadelphia area.

8. The New (Ab)normal

In concert with Haverford College, Bryn Mawr is resuming in-person instruction for the fall semester, barring an upsurge of COVID-19 infections or restrictions required by the government. For students who elect to return, in-person classes are running straight through to November 20, with no fall break and the last weeks of the semester taking place remotely. Accommodations have been made for students and faculty with underlying health conditions, those who choose not to return to campus, and those who cannot return home at the Thanksgiving break. The planning process, led by groups at each college and by a Bi-Co group, was conducted in consultation with infectious disease specialists and medical system leaders from Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Jefferson Health systems. Click here to learn more about Bryn Mawr's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

9. Flexner Lectureship Announced

This fall, Bryn Mawr will welcome Fred Moten as this year's Flexner lecturer. An American poet and scholar and a professor at New York University, Moten explores critical theory, Black studies, and performance studies. The lectures will reflect his progress on a book-in-progress Hesitant Sociology: Blackness and Poetry, which sets out to understand the aesthetics of what political theorist Cedric Robinson calls “the Black radical tradition.”

“It is a work of critical poetics that tends toward something that might be called critical poetry,” Moten says. “Its method is intense attention to social arrangement, including its own.”

The lectures, which will be delivered on Zoom, are slated for Oct. 28, Nov. 11, and Nov. 18.

10. In Support of FGLI Students

Bryn Mawr’s FGLI (First Generation, Low Income) program is a relatively new—but growing— initiative. Among its offerings are the Breaking Barriers mentorship program, which pairs each FGLI student with a FGLI faculty or staff member, and the FGLI Fridays series, which features information, financial literacy workshops, alumnae/i panels, and more.

Over the summer, the program hosted a special webinar for incoming students who identify as FGLI and launched a dedicated blog, where FGLI students can share what’s on their mind.

“We are all working very hard to make sure that the needs of FGLI students are met and their voices are heard,” says Sarah Rose Santiago ’22, the FGLI student coordinator and a member of its steering committee. “I am extremely honored to do this work. I hope that the FGLI programs grow to become much bigger so that students receive more support.”