The President’s Forum
by by Michelle No '12
Scripps College students learn the most basic tenet of feminism is a belief in the equality of the sexes. Those who have fulfilled their gender studies requirement know that the discussion doesn’t end in the classroom.
The President’s Forum on Saturday morning, March 27, brought the topic to the forefront of Inauguration Weekend, encouraging attendees to reconsider its relevance in the context of women’s burgeoning growth in the workforce and intellectual sphere.
Introducing the panelists, Ashley Peters ’08 said: “We are the products of an institution that respects the female voice and teaches us that collaboration and community are central to progress and growth. Scripps College creates great thinkers, fearless leaders, and remarkable women.”
For an hour and a half, three alumnae panelists, Beth Nolan ’73, Ruth Markowitz Owades ’66, and Karen Tse ’86, accomplished in their respective fields, explicated the ideas and questions exchanged during a yearlong conversation at Scripps College on what constitutes a female leader and what is the nature of genius.
National Public Radio senior national correspondent Linda Wertheimer, who moderated the forum, commented, “It is a mistake to assume the world has changed enough.”
The speakers addressed the reality of biased hiring practices and gendered adjectives that has been buried under the guise of political correctness and false successes. They drew from personal experience to highlight the distinct hurdles that face aspiring leaders yet have been pushed aside by a facade of change.
“[Internationally, the bias] is so much more obvious, said Tse, an attorney who founded International Bridges to Justice. “When someone says, ‘You’re a woman. You’re the downfall of everything,’ that’s really easy to deal with. You see it, you deal with it.”
For Owades, who developed the nation’s first fresh flower mail-order catalog, ‘dealing with it’ meant becoming an entrepreneur traversing and discerning ambiguity.
“My first business venture, Gardener’s Eden, was the result of a large corporation telling me that my concept would not work,” she said. “And again, with courage, tenacity, and trepidation, I forged ahead on my own. And perhaps this is the real genius of women.” (The success of Gardener’s Eden and Owades’ second company, Calyx and Corolla, are the subjects of two Harvard Business School case studies.)
Forum participants said that surfacing the subconscious bias and admitting the crisis was the first step; the next will be training a legion of women leaders to transform the spheres of influence and link the definition of genius with new faces. Nolan, former White House counsel in the Clinton administration and now senior vice president and general counsel at George Washington University, learned to set high standards at Scripps College, where she fostered intimate relationships with professors, administrators, and classmates who pushed her to perform her best. INAUGURATION 2010 “When I went to Georgetown Law School… I walked through that place as if it were Scripps,” Nolan said. “I did independent studies with professors — I expected them to know my name. When they had office hours, [I’d come in, and say,] ‘Hi! I’m here. I’d like to talk about this problem, this thing that came up in class.'”
Nolan said she struggled with the meaning of “the genius of women” when she first heard it. Then she did a Google search — and found that “The Genius of Woman” is now virtually owned by Scripps College. “I may not know exactly what it means, but I believe in it with all my heart. And I believe in it because of my Scripps College education, which I carry with me every day.”
Although the discussion was closely tied to the theme of the inauguration, many of the solutions discussed harkened back to the essential mission of the College “to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.” Even the Scripps motto, Incipit Vita Nova (Here begins the new life) aligned perfectly with the afternoon’s resounding call for transformation.
“One of the key things for me was believing in the power of transformation… the belief that rebirth and birth is possible every day. That it is not over until it’s over,” said Tse.
During the question and answer period, Cheryl Walker, the Richard Armour Professor of Modern Languages, commented from the audience: “I’ve seen glimmers [of change]. I don’t know about the rest of you, but we need more than glimmers. We need a strong blinding light.”
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