Radcliffe is "not just a college; it is an institution," as Radcliffe Forum Director A. Simone Reagor put it recently. While some label Radcliffe an anachronism, others hail it as a living symbol of the more tranquil society of the past, or of a future society in which women will participate more fully than they do now. As it nears its centennial, the college today is an enigma: Radcliffe receives alumnae donations--some women say they go to school there--but it lacks an official undergraduate enrollment. Radcliffe confuses people.
Despite its cloudy status, Radcliffe is alive and well, at least administratively. The college has begun new programs and carried on traditions. Perhaps most important, Radcliffe continues to scrutinize its unique position in relation to the University and society at large in an effort to reduce the confusion.
The Radcliffe Forum, established by a 1977 agreement, continues to sponsor some activities formerly run by the now-defunct Office of Women's Education, but has also initiated new programs. The Career Exploration Series presents panel discussions with professional women to a primarily undergraduate audience as a way of stimulating thought and offering career advice. In addition, the forum, under Director Reagor, has initiated a program that permits alumnae and administrators to dine in Houses in small groups to share ideas with undergraduates. These informal meetings provide Radcliffe administrators with fresh ideas, which they can develop into full-blown programs, Reagor says.
The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Series, aimed at providing an outlet for social science research on women, has attracted audiences of about 150 people at the first two lectures. In addition, the forum oversees class events, including the recent junior parents' day, and a sophomore picnic planned for the spring.
Radcliffe strives to do more than what a typical college does, Reagor says. When thinking of college, she says "you think of Wellesley, Smith, Wesleyan, where it's the traditional view, and they're primarily concerned with education. But Radcliffe has never had its own faculty. Its primary purpose has been getting women a Harvard education. And today we're doing that better than ever."
Harvard was created in accordance with a "male vision" and should be reshaped to include the "female vision," Reagor says. "We don't want women simply to become men; we don't want that model. We want to reshape the society. It is not easy to do. Harvard doesn't want to be reshaped," she adds. To change almost 350 years of tradition, she says "the strategy is to keep Radcliffe alive. There will be a need for Radcliffe as long as this is a male-oriented society--optimistically, a century or so."
Reagor left the division of research grants at the National Endowment for Humanities in the summer of 1976 for a "self-supported sabbatical" in Martha's Vineyard, where she read and wrote. At the time of the Harvard-Radcliffe agreement, Reagor was doing research in Cambridge; and subsequently through her acquaintances in the administration landed a job as director of the forum. She had never before dealt with women's issues alone, but feels it is important for all women to consider these questions at some point in their lives.
If she were an undergraduate today, Reagor admits, she probably would say she goes to Harvard, not Radcliffe. However, the name Radcliffe must be retained, Reagor adds, for legal and financial purposes. Some foundations will not give Harvard money but will grant money to Radcliffe, which they picture as a small women's college struggling with a large university, Reagor says. For example, two Truman scholarships, instead of one, are granted to Harvard-Radcliffe students because Radcliffe maintains its unique autonomy.
President Horner cites the 1977 agreement between Harvard and Radcliffe as a means of ensuring equal access for women to a Harvard education, but adds that equal access itself should not be viewed as an end, but "as a means of going beyond what has been done." To Horner, the big question for Radcliffe today is: "Are we looking at equal access and opportunity as an ends or a means?" As a historical example, Norner points out, "People were so exhausted in the effort of gaining suffrage that it became an end." Women did not use their newly-won suffrage to further their cause, she adds.
Horner says, then, Radcliffe's purpose is not merely to provide women with equal access so they can become female Harvard men. For women to deny their identity in order to achieve equality "is exactly six steps away from being equal," she says.
Horner says undergraduate women of 100 years ago were examples of people "who go beyond." The first group of women undergraduates had less chance to gain access to the "male world" than women undergraduates today, Horner says. However, because of heightened awareness of society's ills gained through their education, these women created new professions, such as social work, and fought for reforms, such as child labor laws, Horner says. Radcliffe will honor women who have continued in "the great tradition of recognizing possibilities" at its centennial convocation next September, Horner adds.
Horner, who is so busy lately she says she cannot remember if this is her fifth or sixth year on the job, plans to get "some good solid footing," then hopes to give someone else a chance at the Radcliffe presidency. She adds, in this age when ten years is too long to stay on as president, it would be unfair to stay only three, as she had originally planned.
"I've tried to take on challenges when they've presented themselves. I find tremendous pleasure in watching my children's personalities take shape. I find tremendous pleasure in watching students' minds take shape. Watching things develop--that's what's interesting to me about the Radcliffe presidency," Horner says.
Susan L. Comstock '78, president of the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), says she is pleased with the 1977 agreement, but hesitates to make final judgments on its effects, particularly on Radcliffe undergraduates. Comstock says, "The Radcliffe Forum is yet to be tested in the kind of role it will play in a typical Harvard women's life." Comstock praises the forum's commitment to a broad range of activities, but fears undergraduates may be neglected by the forum, as they were by the defunct Office of Women's Education.
"A lot of undergraduate women feel alienated by Radcliffe. Radcliffe is going to have to make an effort to win back its student allegiances," Comstock says, adding that Radcliffe could do this by taking stronger stands on such issues as housing, admissions, financial aid, work study, and women's studies. Comstock feels the Radcliffe administration should push to maintain at least one House with a one-to-one female-to-male ratio, and that more female applicants to Harvard-Radcliffe should be recruited.
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