Women in Public Service Project: Why the Sister Colleges?

Posted December 20th, 2011 at 11:58 am.

Bryn Mawr Now guest blogger Sara Alcid ’12 was among the Bryn Mawr students who attended the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium on Dec. 15.

Why are the remaining Seven Sisters women’s colleges the right institutions for the State Department to collaborate with on the Women in Public Service Project? Aside from the obvious answer that the student bodies at these institutions are largely female, there is something more to why Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Smith, Barnard and Mt. Holyoke colleges were chosen to carry out the project’s vision of “a world in which political and civic leadership is at least 50 percent female by 2050.”

During the Student Welcome and Reception the night before the Women in Public Service Colloquium, Smith College alumna Farah Pandith ’90, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, spoke to students–emerging leaders in public service–that were invited to represent the sister colleges the following day at the colloquium, whom she calls “generation change.”

Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities

She spoke about her own experience at Smith College as a student government association president and remarked that at the Seven Sisters, “it’s all about women” and these institutions are special in “the way professors talk to you and the way you develop to see yourself.” At Bryn Mawr, I have been challenged and encouraged to look in the mirror and truly believe that I can push the envelope and become a leader in politics and public service. I certainly did not always think this way–it was Bryn Mawr that taught me to envision my role in society beyond the constructions of womanhood in the media and popular culture. It is difficult to identify what exactly the Seven Sisters do to inspire boldness in their graduates, but Farah Pandith has observed that “something powerful happens when women are in an all women’s environment that leads us to soar in ways we typically don’t in co-ed environments…There’s something really special about the ethos of these colleges.” As a student that transferred to Bryn Mawr from a co-ed college, I can attest to the truth of this statement.

Students from Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and Barnard colleges connect at the Women in Public Service Project's Student Welcome and Reception.

The ethos of the sister colleges, which are constituted around a commitment to learning for the advancement of social justice, diversity and gender equality, inspire their graduates to pursue careers in public service. This brings about the application of the pedagogy of their undergraduate education to the advancement of social equality outside of the academy. Even graduates that enter careers in the private sector have been instrumental in elevating the status of women in the boardroom and opportunities for female corporate leadership–an important parallel to women’s equality in the public sphere. Thus, it is the ethos and pedagogy of Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Smith, Barnard and Mt. Holyoke colleges that inspire their graduates to pursue positions of leadership within public service, many of which have created an impressive precedent for my sister college peers and I to follow. Despite the fact that women’s colleges educate only two percent of female college graduates in the United States, their graduates disproportionately occupy positions of power and influence in the pubic and private sector; women’s college graduates account for twenty percent of the women in Congress and thirty percent of the most powerful women in corporate business.

The unprecedented legacy of female leadership across the globe that the Seven Sisters colleges have produced provides the Women in Public Service Project with the expertise, mentors, and inspiration needed to “provide vital momentum to the next generation of women leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership for their governments and societies, and help change the way global solutions are developed,” the project’s mission. Bryn Mawr alumnae in this legacy that attended the Women in Public Service Colloquium include: Maya Ajmera ’89, President and Founder of the Global Fund for Children, Marie Bernard ’72, Deputy Director of the National Institution on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, Inyang Ebong-Harstrup ’82, Deputy Director of the UN Development Program, Amanda Glendinning ’05, Director of Case Management Services at Pathways, Inc., Suzan Habachy ’54, formerly the highest ranking woman in UN administration and the founder of Trickle Up, Jennifer Ho ’87, Deputy Director of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Angela Uther Kane ’70, UN Under-Secretary General for Management, Cheryl M. Lee Kim ’91, Director of Office of Human & Institutional Development at the US Agency for International Development, Emily Maruse ’87, Director of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women, and Liana Sterling ’03, Policy Analyst at the NYC Office of Management and Budget.

—Sara Alcid

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