125th Anniversary Blog

A Modern Mawrtyr’s Life: Bryn Mawr’s Quaker Heritage

Posted April 27, 2011

Welcome to A Modern Mawrtyr’s Life—reflections on the daily Bryn Mawr College experience as reflected through the eyes of Alicia Steinmetz, political theorist and warrior princess.

In anticipation of the “Living Our Heritage” conference taking place in June, and my own deep interest in secularism and religion in the public sphere (I turned in my thesis on the subject this Monday—yay!), I have been thinking about Bryn Mawr’s Quaker heritage. According to the Bryn Mawr College chapter in the book Founded by Friends, written by our own Eric Pumroy, director of Library Collections, the school was founded on two main goals: creating a first-rate academic institution for women, and promoting the Quaker message through a sectarian Friends school.

How then did it end up fulfilling the first goal but losing the second? When Joseph Taylor was planning what Bryn Mawr was to become, he was torn between modeling Bryn Mawr on Haverford College and following the lead of the newly opened Johns Hopkins University, which was also Quaker but committed more to academic excellence than spreading the Quaker message. This tension between purposes was a source of much debate in Bryn Mawr’s early years, but the tides turned decisively through the efforts of M. Carey Thomas. Her strong vision and commitment to turning Bryn Mawr into an academically rigorous education for women, driven by the roadblocks she faced in attaining her own education, made her push consistently to prioritize a high quality of education over fulfilling religious purpose. Pumroy suggests that for Thomas, “if accomplishing this mission for women meant sacrificing a Quaker-based education, it was a sacrifice she was willing to make” (Pumroy 2007, 161). She was helped by the fact that many Quakers at the time were not interested in women’s higher education, which meant that Bryn Mawr would need to appeal to non-Quakers as well. Still, Thomas set Bryn Mawr on a path to becoming the first-rate academic institution that it is, even if that path meant the loss of its religious purpose.

Of course, facets of the Quaker influence remain, even though they have been secularized. The connection and cooperation between Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore was built on a sense of Quaker identity and common purpose between the three schools; and this cooperation provides a valuable educational resource for Bryn Mawr students today. The Quaker commitment to freedom of conscience led to the independence and self-regulation of valued institutions and practices such as the Self-Government Association and the Honor Code. Pumroy emphasizes that this commitment to independence “was balanced by a Quaker social consciousness” (Pumroy 160), which drove Bryn Mawr’s commitment to social and political engagement, locally and globally.

During the 125th Anniversary celebration, Bryn Mawr has continued to commit itself to academic rigor, self-determination, and civic engagement, all of which are part of its Quaker legacy, even if they appear to us to be wholly secular. It has been good for the college that it chose a secular path over a wholly religious one, but given the way modern society often pits secularism against religion, we might do well to keep in mind the influence Quakerism has had on many of Bryn Mawr’s most cherished institutions and practices. This shows us that we do not have to be Quaker to have Quaker-based ideas become an important and valuable part of our identity; and I for one think it is fitting that Bryn Mawr’s year-long celebration should end with a reminder of what this secular institution owes its religious founders.

If you are interested in learning more about Bryn Mawr’s Quaker heritage, check out Eric Pumroy’s Bryn Mawr chapter in Founded by Friends: The Quaker Heritage of Fifteen American Colleges and Universities. Ed. John W. Oliver Jr., Charles L. Cherry, and Caroline L. Cherry. Lanham, MD: Scare House Press, Inc., 2007.

“Gender Justice and Development: Local and Global” Conference

Posted April 26, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

Rounding off Bryn Mawr College’s year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary, from June 9th to 11th, the College will be hosting the Ninth International Conference of the International Development Ethics Association. Three Bryn Mawr professors hold positions on the organizing committee—Christine Koggel (Philosophy), Cynthia Bisman (Social Work), and Mary Osirim (Sociology)—and have formulated a conference program that resonates strongly with many of the themes that Bryn Mawr’s 125th anniversary celebration has explored this year.

Featuring ethics and gender scholars from around the world, the conference will host plenary panels on “Care and Justice: Thinking Relationally,” “Gender and Climate Change,” and “Empowerment: Local and Global.” The panel “Gender and Climate Change” intrigues me the most because the important relationship between gender and climate change is not an obvious one for most people. Exploring the intersection of gender and climate change illuminates both a harrowing picture of the future of women’s livelihoods and an opportunity for the insertion of women’s voices in the management of environmental change.

The effects of climate change, for example, water shortage and land aridity, disproportionately affect women and girls. They already have limited access to the consumption of resources, so shortages in water and food have the potential to deeply worsen female malnutrition, rates of mortality, and overall status. However, women in the developing world have a longstanding labor attachment to farming and water management, making them local experts on techniques for the management of the effects of climate change. The question is whether or not these women will be given the opportunity to insert their knowledge into the developing systems of climate change mitigation.

The “Gender and Climate Change” plenary panel is sure to be a fruitful presentation and exploration of an issue that lies at the crux of environmentalism and feminism. Nancy Tuana of Penn State will bring her area of expertise in the ethics of climate change to the conference, while Petra Tschakert, also from Penn State, will contribute her research on the intersection of climate change, poverty and gender.

To register for the “Gender Justice and Development: Local and Global” conference, please visit the conference’s registration page.

A Message from the Secretary-General of the UN: What Bryn Mawr Already Knows

Posted April 6, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

On Monday, April 4th, Ban Ki-moon, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations spoke at the University of Pennsylvania for The Fifth Global Colloquium of University Presidents. This year’s colloquium theme is “Empowering Women to Change the World: What Universities and the UN can do.” I attended Ban Ki-moon’s lecture in order to find out how Bryn Mawr’s longstanding involvement in women’s empowerment and the Heritage and Hope conference measure up to the UN Secretary General’s advice.

He spoke of his recent visits to Egypt and Tunisia and the outspoken young women he met in each of these countries. Throughout his work in international politics, he says he has recognized a powerful source of positive change that is being stunted by a lack of education—women and girls. Ban Ki-moon went on to urge the world of academia to participate in the elevation of these women’s voices at every level of their operation. He outlined three main points at which institutions of higher learning can further women’s empowerment.

The first consists of providing a strong foundation of critical thinking that will prepare young people to analyze, question, and challenge norms of discrimination at work in society. He also noted that providing this model of transformation for female students will propel them into positions of leadership—a space where a strong female presence can rupture structural discrimination. Bryn Mawr’s classroom experience, student government, and social atmosphere make it hard for a Bryn Mawr student to be a follower. The outspoken nature, demonstrated commitment to public service, and academic and career-related achievements of Bryn Mawr students and alumae are a testament to the fact that Ban Ki-moon’s first provision is a legacy here.

The second piece of advice involves working to standardize methods of field research so that studies about the status of women from all over the world can produce reliable and streamlined data. Ban Ki-moon spoke about the difficulties that the United Nations faces in producing global reports on women and girls due to the difference in research methods and data collection in each country. International collaboration between colleges and universities on the standardization of field research is a proposed solution to this challenge. As the Secretary-General said, “We need to have the research and statistical information to back up our movement.” The Heritage and Hope conference’s program evidenced Bryn Mawr’s longstanding and budding relationships with women’s colleges and universities abroad, namely Tsuda College in Japan, Effat University in Saudi Arabia, and the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. Working toward the standardization of field research to support the study and strategizing of women’s empowerment is an interesting project that Bryn Mawr has the connections and academic resources to pursue.

Ban Ki-moon’s third suggestion for how American institutions of higher learning can empower women to change the world is encouraging students to study abroad. He stressed the importance of studying to achieve global citizenship and broadening one’s perspective through international travel. The Secretary-General also noted that studying and traveling where poverty is widespread is a humbling experience that has the power to shape young people’s career paths into ones that work toward social conditions in which gender equality can thrive. Nearly 40% of Bryn Mawr students study abroad during their time here and the college provides funding for international summer internships.

I went to the University of Pennsylvania on Monday to hear Ban Ki-moon speak, with the hope of being able to report back to Bryn Mawr with new and innovative methods for engaging in the empowerment of women as an academic institution. What I now realize is that because he was speaking specifically to the universities within the colloquium (Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, NYU, McGill University, and Princeton University), none of which are a  women’s college, perhaps Ban Ki-moon’s suggestions are far more familiar to Bryn Mawr than the colloquium’s members because of the college’s defining quality—it’s all-female student body—and its central commitment to empowering women. Bryn Mawr is ahead of the curve in what is becoming a leading trend in international politics and we should be proud that words from the Secretary-General of the United Nations are extremely familiar and central to our undergraduate education. It should be of no surprise that Bryn Mawr and the other Seven Sisters colleges have joined forces with the U.S. State Department to create The Women and Public Service Initiative, as announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this month.

Bryn Mawr: A College of “Do-Gooders”

Posted March 29, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

Bryn Mawr was recently ranked by Newsweek as the third best school for “do-gooders.”  I was by no means surprised but pleased that Bryn Mawr is receiving recognition for what I consider to be one of the best aspects of the college.  At Bryn Mawr, course topics, campus events, student organizations, and conversation in the dining halls usually all pivot around the same desire—to improve the social conditions around us and beyond.  Especially with President McAuliffe’s recent efforts, in the wake of Bryn Mawr’s 125th anniversary, to engage Bryn Mawr as an institution and community in international efforts to empower women through education,  “doing good,” paired with intellectual growth, is truly the zeitgeist of Bryn Mawr.  I often forget that many colleges and universities operate upon a different set of goals, more geared toward personal economic mobility.  Bryn Mawr students are very lucky to pursue an education within a college culture that so strongly supports “doing good,” both ideologically and with advisory and financial resources.

Of course the college has a few points to improve on—we still use styrofoam take-out containers in the dining halls and issues of class division and silence are only recently being addressed—but Bryn Mawr’s historical involvement in public service shows no signs of stopping and will propel the college into another 125 years of “doing good.”

A Modern Mawrtyr’s Life: “Living Our Heritage”

Posted March 28, 2011

Welcome to A Modern Mawrtyr’s Life—reflections on the daily Bryn Mawr College experience as reflected through the eyes of Alicia Steinmetz, political theorist and warrior princess.

“Living Our Heritage: Seeking Equality Through Education,” the theme of a conference this spring on Bryn Mawr’s campus sponsored by the Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE), fits well with the energy and mission of Bryn Mawr’s 125 anniversary celebration. Bryn Mawr’s Quaker legacy is well known but often understated. Although one of the many American colleges and universities founded by Quakers, Bryn Mawr has become increasingly secular since its founding, which can make the relationship between its present-day existence and its Quaker roots somewhat ambiguous. In what sense can Bryn Mawr College be said to embody the Quaker message?

The conference, placed as it is at the end of Bryn Mawr’s 125th anniversary celebration, suggests that if nothing else, the Quaker emphasis on equality in education and the value of women’s leadership drives not only the historical impetus for Bryn Mawr’s founding, but also its ongoing mission. The 125th anniversary has brought to our campus a number of speakers, workshops, and events that ask us to consider, as students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and women, how we continue to embody Bryn Mawr’s founding commitments to equity and excellence in education. We have been exploring this mission in a variety of contexts and from a variety of perspectives, and the “Living our Heritage” conference promises to offer a final inspiring and informative event to close the celebration.

David Ross, economics professor at Bryn Mawr College and a member of FAHE’s Executive Committee, suggests that the “Living our Heritage” conference is an important opportunity to revisit much of the themes addressed in the September “Heritage and Hope” conference, and build on the thinking and work that has been progressing since that conference. “Heritage and Hope” drew leaders and educators from colleges, universities, NGOs, and government agencies around the world to engage in a conversation about the continuing challenges women face worldwide. Ross suggests that “Living our Heritage” might be seen as providing “the scholarly bookend” to the celebration that began with “Heritage and Hope.”

The “Living our Heritage” conference will be occurring June 16-19 at Bryn Mawr College. The plenary on Friday morning June 17 will feature ProNica, a Friends organization that embraces the mission of empowering marginalized communities in Nicaragua while also promoting student and faculty scholarship. In the afternoon, Eboo Patel, Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), will describe the IFYC’s work in promoting opportunities for students of diverse faiths to build partnerships over a shared dedication to serving others.

For more information on the conference, a partial list of presenters, and the conference schedule, please visit the conference webpage: http://legacy.earlham.edu/~fahe/current%20conference.htm.

Activism in the Digital Age and the Link Between H.R. 3. and Women’s Education

Posted March 14, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

Shortly after the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood under H.R. 3., flyers saying “SAVE PLANNED PARENTHOOD” appeared all over campus. They prompted people to go online to Planned Parenthood’s Action Center and sign an open letter to Congress. The phenomenon of online petitions and online activism is a recent one—and one that worries me. Because of its convenience, it doesn’t seem to quite have the power that physical marches, protests, and lobbying have. Signing online petitions is not to be completely belittled—I do it daily because I can’t exactly be a lobbyist every day—but in the wake of the GOP’s legislative attack on women’s health, we need to make a bigger statement than online activism can produce.

Anyone who believes in women’s education should be alarmed by H.R. 3. because it undermines women’s ability to have control over their reproductive lives and family planning. Without this control, supported financially and ideologically at the federal level, women’s educational opportunities and freedoms will shrink considerably. Women’s educational futures are strongly linked to their ability to choose when and when not to have a child.

NARAL is organizing a pro-choice lobby day in Washington, D.C. on April 7th—a great opportunity to have your voice heard by Congress, not just your name on an online petition.  If you care about women’s education and reproductive rights, please consider joining me in D.C. for this exciting opportunity.

A Women’s College?

Posted March 2, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

On February 19th, two transsexual hip-hop artists performed at Bryn Mawr as part of their F to eMbody tour.  The event was organized and funded by the Gender and Sexuality Studies program and various student organizations.  The two performers, Katastrophe and Athens Boys Choir, were very well received by students because of the outstanding wit and intellect present in their lyrics, their candid interactions with the crowd and most importantly, the validity and power they bring to self-identification.  Something I have thought about a lot during my time at Bryn Mawr—and something this concert inspired me to question further—is if it is really fitting to call Bryn Mawr College a women’s college when several students are trans men.

Many of the Seven Sisters have become accepting and welcoming environments for female-to-male transgender students.  Being women’s colleges is a great source of pride and identification for the Seven Sisters, but at what point does that label start to draw a discriminatory line between female Bryn Mawr students and female-to-male transgender Bryn Mawr students?

During an interview in 2009, a Bryn Mawr graduate, Alex, spoke about why he felt that he belonged at a women’s college as a man. “I grew up socialized as a woman.  I have only a history of being responded to and reacted to how other women are reacted to. I felt that this is not a past that I am ashamed of or afraid of acknowledging.” (http://www.npr.org/internedition/fall09/story.php?id=17)

The Undergraduate Dean of Bryn Mawr until this school year, Karen Tidmarsh, stated: “We are a women’s college and so at the point of admission we are assuming that everyone we admit identifies as a woman. After admission, their identities change in a million ways, and that really isn’t our business.”

As Bryn Mawr moves on from its first 125 years and into the next century, how do you hope the college evolves as an institution in relation to transgender students?

Supplementary Reading:

When She Graduates as He

Challenging the Existence of Women’s College Through Transgender

Gender and Identity at a Women’s College

Hepburn Medalist Finds the Link Between Poverty Alleviation and Women’s Empowerment

Posted February 16, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

In my mind, CARE is one of the most sustainable and effectual global women’s health organizations.  Although it is based in the United States, they have designed their international programs in a manner that fully involves the local communities served.  This very program engineering has enabled CARE to avoid many of the pitfalls of international organization, like accusations of Western ethnocentrism and framing populations served as victims without agency.  The 2011 Katharine Hepburn Medal was awarded this past weekend to Helene Gayle, president and chief executive officer of CARE, in honor of her efforts to fight global poverty and reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

On Saturday afternoon, I attended the Question and Answer Session with Dr. Gayle in the campus center.  She was humble and excited to engage in a discussion with Bryn Mawr students about her work.  When she spoke of her five years at CARE, you could tell from her growing smile that she is most proud and fond of these years; she said that they have been the best five years of her life.

Dr. Gayle described public health as a discipline in which communities, nations and the world are patients and in which the social aspect of medicine is examined.  As a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, she voiced her desire to eliminate global economic and social poverty by empowering women and girls.  Dr. Gayle and CARE were key players in building the recent trend of alleviating poverty and improving public health through the elevation of women’s status and social confidence in society.  She stressed that it is necessary for a shift in men’s thinking regarding gender to accompany women’s empowerment.  Without this shift, even empowered women will remain policed by their social environment.

CARE maintains a widespread initiative to improve family planning education and resources around the world.  Family planning has always been an issue of contention, which is why CARE is conscious of navigating family planning campaigns without alienating partners for collaboration, like private-sector funding sources.  Dr. Gayle stated that it’s best to find common ground with more conservative camps and then inch into the more disputed aspects of family planning so that CARE’s coalition can grow to be broader and broader.  I found this approach to be problematic.  I think that the innovative trail-blazing work that CARE does is so effective and loud because it calls structural and ideological norms into question.  In order to continue disrupting the way in which poverty is gendered, I think CARE should shy away from weakening the progressive nature of their agenda for the sake of funding.  Of course, CARE cannot operate without funding, but I worry that broadening their coalition to include conservative sources of funding could compromise the very thing that CARE is famous for—being unapologetic about their belief in gender equality.

Regardless of this disagreement with CARE’s approach to funding, I was extremely delighted to be able to speak with Dr. Gayle and attend the Hepburn Medal Ceremony on Saturday at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  Color-themed cocktails and delicious food were just the cherry on top of an evening that brought together important members of the Bryn Mawr community in celebration of Dr. Gayle’s work.  Four Bryn Mawr presidents were present to witness what was my favorite moment of the evening—when Dr. Gayle first stepped up the podium after receiving the Hepburn medal and was momentarily speechless.  She quickly recovered from awe and disbelief and delivered a speech that left no question as to why she deserves the Hepburn Medal; Dr. Gayle carries the same defiant spirit of service that both late Hepburn women embodied.

A Legacy of Giving

Posted February 3, 2011

Welcome to Sara’s Scholarly Musings! Sara Alcid is a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She’ll be posting her reflections on the themes and events of the College’s 125th Anniversary and providing a current student’s perspective on Bold Vision. For Women. For the World.

On April 27th in New York City, Bryn Mawr will be hosting the 125th Anniversary Scholarship Benefit at the Lincoln Center.  A Bryn Mawr education is never the same for any two students, but we all know that it is surely something rare and special—something we cannot replicate outside of this intellectually-charged and empowering environment.  It is in support of this unique “Bryn Mawr experience” that the 125th Scholarship Gala seeks to enable young women from all backgrounds to attend the college.  The Bryn Mawr graduates that I have met incidentally on airplanes, as well as those I’ve met in more formal settings, all speak of their willingness to give back to the college.  They attribute this to how much the college gave them over their four years here and throughout their lives.  Furthermore, the high level of student activism on campus is a testament to current students’ valuation of their education and commitment to maintaining Bryn Mawr’s excellence and propelling it into its next 125 years.

A current senior reports: “I think that the majority of Bryn Mawr students feel fortunate to attend this college, regardless of their financial background.  But speaking as someone who receives an extremely generous financial aid award due to my family’s socioeconomic status, I always keep in mind that if it weren’t for Bryn Mawr’s fundraising efforts and endowment, I would be attending a huge (and hugely mediocre) state university.  Bryn Mawr has fostered my intellectual confidence, passion for social justice, and ability to excel across different academic disciplines.  I hate to admit this, but before attending Bryn Mawr, my idea of success looked something like marrying a rich man.  I think it goes without saying that I now have vastly different hopes for my future.  Bryn Mawr has enabled me to realize my promise as a scholar, leader and global citizen.”

A current junior Psychology major shared that her scholarship made it possible for her to “receive a holistic and personalized liberal arts education as opposed to going to a state school and being just a number.”  She adds that “Bryn Mawr has become her “second home”—a place where she feels completely safe being true to herself and has made friendships that will “surely last a lifetime.”

One of the best accounts of what makes the Bryn Mawr experience so unique is E.B. White’s “Call me Ishmael, or How I Feel About Being Married to a Bryn Mawr Graduate,” written in 1956.  He writes:

I have known many graduates of Bryn Mawr.  They are all of the same mold.  They have all accepted the same bright challenges: something is lost that has not been found, something’s at stake that has not been won, something is started that has not been finished, something is dimly felt that has not been fully realized.  They carry the distinguishing mark—the mark that separates them from other educated and superior women: the incredible vigor, the subtlety of mind, the warmth of spirit, the aspiration, the fidelity to past and to present.  What is there about these women that makes them so dangerous…?  Why, it is Bryn Mawr. As they grow in years, they grow in light.  As their minds and hearts expand, their deeds become more formidable, their connections more significant…  I gazed on Pembroke West only once in my life, but I knew instinctively that I was looking at a pile that was to touch me far more deeply than the Taj Mahal or the George Washington Bridge.

E.B. White was obviously someone looking from the outside, in…so now it’s time to hear from those on the inside.  What makes/made your time at Bryn Mawr meaningful?  Do the academics and sense of community stand out for you?  For graduates, how has your Bryn Mawr education continued to provide for you?  Why do you think it is important to support Bryn Mawr’s financial aid and scholarship program?

A Modern Mawrtyr’s Life: Creative Art in the Liberal Arts

Posted February 1, 2011

Welcome to A Modern Mawrtyr’s Life—reflections on the daily Bryn Mawr College experience as reflected through the eyes of Alicia Steinmetz, political theorist and warrior princess.

As part of Bryn Mawr’s 125th anniversary celebration, Hepburn Fellow Meredith Monk will be visiting campus this week, giving students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to attend workshops, film screenings, and lectures with one of the world’s most interesting and daring interdisciplinary artists. Her visit started Monday, January 31st with a screening of Inner Voice, a documentary by filmmaker Babeth M. VanLoo, which follows Monk during her creation of Songs of Ascension. In exploring the mystery of this artist’s creative process, the film provides a look into Monk’s spiritual life, and the impact Buddhism has had on her work. The week includes screenings of Ellis Island and Book of Days, and workshops and lectures about her visual, theatrical, musical, and interdisciplinary approach to art. The week will culminate in a performance of Education of the Girlchild Revisited by Monk and Vocal Ensemble on Sunday February 6th at 2 p.m. in McPherson Auditorium of Goodhart Hall.

Meredith Monk is an impressive and inspiring American female artist that constantly challenges expectations, limits, and established forms, and works from and within the boundaries of multiple art forms. Artistically inclined students at Bryn Mawr can probably learn much from Monk’s life (and I plan to do so over the next week). Rather than pursuing a conservatory education, she attended Sarah Lawrence, a liberal arts college that I believe was still all-women at the time she graduated. Her artistic development is interesting to me because it speaks to my own experience having transferred from an acting conservatory to Bryn Mawr College, and it has made me reflect on what a liberal arts education can offer a budding artist.

When I was in high school, I thought that the best way to pursue acting professionally was to get a conservatory education. I entered the Acting Conservatory at SUNY Purchase, a rigorous, competitive program, with a very active cut system. Initially, twenty-six young actors and actresses made up my company (which eventually graduated with 11), and these would be the only twenty-six people with whom I ever shared classes. Classes would go from 8 am to 6 pm, often six days a week. The schedule was predetermined by the acting board of study, and there was practically no choice in classes offered to the students. I was offered one academic class a semester, but available classes were quite limited because of time constraints. I had tried to supplement my education by taking additional academic courses, but the conservatory viewed this interest in outside subjects as a sign of lacking commitment to the conservatory. I was strongly encouraged to drop extraneous classes, and put my focus completely in my acting work.

Almost immediately, I felt cut off from the world and the interest in life and humanity that had drawn me to acting in the first place. I lamented the things I might never get the chance to do: study history, religion, philosophy, literature, languages, and study abroad. I left in the middle of my sophomore year when I decided a liberal arts education would be a better fit for me. Now, I’d like to say that when I got to Bryn Mawr I found an environment where I could flourish in theater and develop into the artist I wanted to be, but I’m afraid I can’t wrap up the story as neatly as that. The conservatory had been too damaging, the scars still too recent, and it took me until my senior year to really start becoming involved in theater again. I have flourished in many other ways, and had the chance to do everything I wanted to do outside of theater, experiences that have shaped my life, passion, and current goals in innumerable ways. However, I have not yet found a way to reconcile my many academic interests with my love for theater. I hope, and believe, that someday I will.

Mawrtyrs past and present, what do you think: Can one be both an academic and an artist? What can the creative artist gain from the liberal arts?

Also, a side note: Despite this 125th anniversary event being something incredibly interesting to me, I somehow didn’t know about any of this until Sunday night, and only then because I couldn’t think of a blog topic and decided to browse the Bryn Mawr College website looking for inspiration. So, if you’re anything like me and often fail to filter information properly, I recommend making a habit out of checking the 125th anniversary or Bryn Mawr News site so you don’t miss out on amazing events like this.

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