Radcliffe's Role Unclear to Students
While the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has retained its Garden Street locale—only a few minutes’ walk from Harvard’s undergraduate center—its role in student life has diminished dramatically.
Seventy-three percent of undergraduates say they do not understand the purpose of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, according to a recent survey of 408 undergraduates conducted by The Crimson.
While the undergraduate majority might not know the purpose of Radcliffe, leaders of women’s groups on campus say they are interested and excited by the research and scholarship opportunities the Institute provides.
And Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Dean Drew Gilpin Faust says this lack of understanding is simply part of a larger issue—explaining a new, unique addition to Harvard that is continuing to define itself.
Debating the Merger
The 1999 merger agreement mandated that Radcliffe cut formal ties to undergraduate groups. And in two months, Radcliffe will end its financial backing of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP)—the last remaining undergraduate student group funded directly by Radcliffe.
The Institute provides $5,000 annually for the WLP, but next year responsibility for the group will shift to the College.
WLP Co-Chair M. Kate Richey ’03 says that with the many administrative tasks facing Faust when she arrived as dean last year, continued WLP funding was overlooked in the shuffle.
“They actually just realized that they were still funding us this year,” Richey says.
Radcliffe’s primary relationships with undergraduates now take the form of research partnerships, mentorship and externship programs.
But some undergraduate groups are still hoping to maintain contact with the Institute. Even these students, however, say they are unclear about what Radcliffe was—and what it is becoming.
At a University known for its history and traditions, they note, institutional memory among students is often short-term. The students who protested what they referred to as the “demise of Radcliffe College” in 1998 have since graduated. What was once an advocacy movement which appeared on the pages of national media publications is now merely a memory for the occasional campus feminist.
And those who knew Radcliffe in its last days as a College will soon receive their diplomas. The women of this year’s graduating class are the last to be admitted to Radcliffe College.
“People who are here now don’t know what’s been lost,” says Rani Yadav ’03, co-chair of the WLP.
Some members of Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) say that without Radcliffe College, RUS was initially adrift.
“The merger basically left RUS floating for a while, sort of groundless, homeless, not really knowing where our club was going to get its next paycheck,” says Natalia A.J. Truszkowska. ’04, a co-president of RUS.
But the student group’s current board, she says, which consists mostly of sophomores, came at the “tail end” of the dilemma.
“We were there for all the stress our freshman year of trying to figure out what happened,” she says. “But we didn’t actually participate in being part of Radcliffe.”
According to Truszkowska, the continued RUS relationship with Radcliffe is a matter of shared interests in the status of women in the University.
And Richey notes that one clear positive effect of the merger was the creation of the Ann Radcliffe Trust—which aims to raise awareness of women’s issues and funds groups or students who are interested in planning a project that deals with women’s issues within the College. An annual contribution of $50,000 from the Institute is a major source of funding for the Trust.
“The Trust is really active, and perhaps even brings the name of Radcliffe to more people,” says Richey, who also serves as a student member of the Trust’s board.
Getting the Word Out
While Faust points to a number of programs through which Radcliffe can impact current students in the College, she and the Institute’s undergraduate supporters say they are well-aware of its current publicity problem.
This year, Radcliffe has attempted to increase its visibility with posters on Yard kiosks and house bulletin boards and posts to house e-mail lists.
But still, Richey says, “A lot of people hear about Radcliffe but don’t really go down Garden Street to see what’s there.”
Twenty-nine percent of students who chose to respond to the question say the Institute’s resources are not at all useful to undergraduates, according to the Crimson survey. Only three percent of students ranked Radcliffe’s resources as very useful. Thirty-five percent of students surveyed chose not to answer the question.
Truszkowska suggests that informal publicity through undergraduate women’s groups might be a more effective strategy.
And according to Faust, explaining Radcliffe’s new incarnation to undergraduates is one of many tasks ahead.
“An Institute for Advanced Study is not a concept or category readily understood by many people—especially those outside the academy,” she says. “But I plan to make it a household word.”
Partners in Research
While the past of undergraduates at Radcliffe involved the intricacies of college life, the future, Radcliffe administrators say, lies largely in research partnerships that pair undergraduates with visiting fellows.
Though the Institute offers several programs for undergraduates—including mentorship and externship programs that pair interested students with alums—Faust points to the current Radcliffe Research Partnership program, which began in 1991, as an ideal example of potential collaboration.
“There is a tremendous opportunity for the kinds of connections students now have with faculty and fellows at [Harvard Medical School] and at some of the area studies centers, for example, to exist with the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study as well,” Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 wrote in an e-mail.
When 43 new fellows arrived at the Institute last September, they were given the option of requesting a student research assistant. Interested fellows posted criteria to the program’s website and interviewed interested applicants.
“Research is a very lonely job,” says Irene Silverblatt, an anthropology professor at Duke University who is serving as a Radcliffe fellow this year. “It’s something that you usually just do by yourself.”
And one undergraduate changed her concentration to Visual and Environmental Studies as a result of her work with Barbara Hammer, a documentary filmmaker who is also a fellow this year.
Radcliffe Dean of Social Science Katherine S. Newman, who helps to plan the fellowship program, says she hopes the available undergraduate research partnerships increase.
“It’s really more a matter of the kind of financial support we have for making opportunities available for undergraduates,” she says.
Faust says she is interested in developing another formal program for students to work with Radcliffe Fellows, most likely while they are working on theses. Similar graduate students partnerships are also under consideration, she added.
“This might include some space, some money, a title for the year, but we have not fully worked this out as yet,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Though fervent student discussion of Radcliffe has disappeared from the Yard, several student groups have attempted to maintain connections with Radcliffe, inviting Faust to speak at meetings and also helping to informally publicize the Institute’s events through e-mail lists and networking.
Faust presented a lecture to the incoming first-year class of 2005 during their first week, detailing the history of Radcliffe College and pointing out the potential of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study to contribute to undergraduate intellectual life.
And in a February meeting with the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), Faust said the merger marked a positive step for female undergraduates by forcing the College to confront women’s issues.
“By saying I’m not dealing with final clubs, I’m not dealing with date rape, it means Harry Lewis’ office is completely responsible for that,” Faust said.
Since September, Faust has spoken to a range of student groups—from the WLP to the women’s basketball team.
And as she guides the Institute in its reshaping efforts, Faust says she hopes to include undergraduates.
In the fall, she met with leaders of undergraduate women’s groups to discuss how the Radcliffe Fellowship Program, which is now the core of the Institute, can interact more with undergraduates.
And several ideas that students suggested—such as house affiliations for fellows and more speaking opportunities—are part of Faust’s plans for next year’s fellowship program.
After the Institute publicly announces the Fellows for the 2002-2003 academic year later this week, they will distribute a list of names to centers, departments, deans and Houses across the University.
—Anne K. Kofol contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.