At the 'Cliffe's Edge

Now under Harvard's watch, undergraduate women wonder whether they still fit into life on Garden Street.

Radcliffe’s purpose is a mystery for most undergraduates, more than three years after the merger of Radcliffe College and the University formally transferred responsibility for female undergraduates to Harvard College.

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 survey of 408 undergraduates conducted by The Crimson last year.

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 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.

This year, students expecting the traditional lavish fare at a Radcliffe-sponsored Senior Soiree were disappointed to find that the Radcliffe Association had stopped footing the bill. The event instead was funded by the Harvard Alumni Association, with Radcliffe administrators noting that it no longer shared responsibility for undergraduate alums-to-be.

And last year Radcliffe ended its financial backing of the Women’s Leadership Project (WLP)—the last remaining undergraduate student group funded directly by Radcliffe. The Institute provided $5,000 annually for the WLP, but this year responsibility for the group has shifted to the College.

Former 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 said last year.

Radcliffe’s primary relationships with undergraduates now take the form of research partnerships, mentorship and externship programs.

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.

Those who knew Radcliffe in its last days as a College received their diplomas last June. The women of the Class of 2002 were the last to be admitted to Radcliffe College.

“People who are here now don’t know what’s been lost,” says Rani Yadav ’03, former co-chair of the WLP.

Some members of the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) say the demise of Radcliffe College left RUS 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 former co-president of RUS.

But the student group’s current board, she says, 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 “reinforce the undergraduate experience of Harvard women students” 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.

Starting last year, Radcliffe 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 survey question say the Institute’s resources are not at all useful to undergraduates, according to the Crimson survey. Only 3 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.

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 undergraduates once had sock-hops and study groups at Radcliffe, most future undergraduate involvement in the Institute will involve research partnerships that pair students 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.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 agrees.

“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,” he writes 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 was a Radcliffe fellow last year. “It’s something that you usually just do by yourself.”

One undergraduate changed her concentration to Visual and Environmental Studies as a result of her work with Barbara Hammer, a documentary filmmaker who was also a fellow last 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-student 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,” Faust wrote in an e-mail.

STUDENT CONCERNS

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 2002 meeting with 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.

Last year, Faust 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.

As she guides the Institute in its reshaping efforts, Faust says she hopes to include undergraduates.

But as administrators continue to piece together the Radcliffe puzzle, whether students will fit remains unclear.

—Portions of this article appeared in the February 22, 2002 edition of The Crimson.