Old Library: Owning the Past and Looking Ahead
The below message was sent by President Kim Cassidy to the Bryn Mawr community on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:
Earlier this morning, the Board of Trustees announced a unanimous decision to remove the façade inscription honoring Bryn Mawr’s second president M. Carey Thomas from above the main entrance to Old Library. This decision, reached after very careful research and deliberation by the Board, is reflective of how our thinking must continue to evolve as we seek to create a campus community that feels inclusive and welcoming to all. I appreciate the Board’s affirmation of our mission-driven value of inclusion, and its acknowledgement of the harm that the presence of Thomas’ name on the building creates in achieving that goal. I value the Board’s strong endorsement of the College’s ongoing work for equity and full belonging for all.
As a campus, we aspire to be a learning community that creates conditions that encourage all who study and work at Bryn Mawr to flourish. We seek to continue our dialogue with one another so that a better understanding of our diverse lived experiences can inform the actions we undertake to heal and move forward together. I am grateful for the many voices of students, alumnae/i, staff, faculty, and administrators who participate in such dialogue and who advocate for change.
The Old Library inscription with Thomas’ name will be physically removed from the building later this year. The inscription, along with the previously displayed bust sculpture and oil portrait of M. Carey Thomas currently in storage, will be intentionally displayed as part of a future exhibit that allows for purposeful engagement with these objects and a reckoning with the full stories behind them. We recognize the importance of addressing all aspects of Thomas’ legacy, and these objects will serve as vehicles for that work.
There are several upcoming opportunities where our community can engage more deeply in the work of reckoning with the College’s past and helping to inform our collective future: ·
- We have just updated the Old Library first-floor exhibit that provides a timeline of efforts to recover lost histories and to expand our understanding of our past and of those who have made our College what it is today. We hope you will visit and engage with this exhibit.
- The History section of the College’s website, now named the “History and Legacies Overview,” has been streamlined to better reflect both our ongoing College projects of reckoning and repair, and to provide links to past history projects and related resources.
- On March 30th, all members of our community are invited to presentations by the five artists who were selected as finalists in the ARCH Project, Bryn Mawr’s collaborative initiative with Monument Lab. The artists will share their proposals for an enduring artwork that responds to the question, “What stories are missing from Bryn Mawr College?”
This moment offers an opportunity to continue to acknowledge and hold the pain of the past while we continue institution-wide work to build a fair, inclusive Bryn Mawr. This work includes new efforts designed to associate Old Library with values and aspirations that reflect our current campus community and recreate the building as a space of campus ownership and belonging.
To begin this process, the College will host two April events (on the afternoons of April 14th and 21st) in Old Library’s Great Hall.
- The first event will focus on the history of Old Library, including more recent reflections of its use and meaning to current students, faculty and staff. This event will offer opportunities for tangible ways of reclaiming the space, including an interactive dance performance and an opportunity for creative artwork that will comprise a temporary exhibit in the space.
- The second event will celebrate, through visual and digital participation, the various identities of our current campus community members with the goal of making the Great Hall more inclusive and a place of belonging for all.
Reclaiming a building and creating an inclusive vision of the future for that space are efforts we will need to carry over time and these goals and actions ultimately must be owned by the full campus. We hope that next year we can continue such programming in Old Library in continued partnership with students, faculty and staff. We look forward to your ideas and inspiration for what will be an ongoing and intentional process of acknowledging and reclaiming.
The work of creating a campus of inclusion and belonging is continual and requires focus, renewal, and purposeful action. I am proud of the work we are collectively doing to understand our past and simultaneously create new systems that promote equity, inclusion and belonging for the future.