JUST last week it was revealed that the Radcliffe Board of Trustees has decided to offer Yale professor of psychology and medicine Judith Rodin the presidency of Radcliffe. In the wake of that decision, questions must be raised about both the role of the next president and the future of the institution. Whether or not Rodin accepts the position, the next president faces the challenge of determining if Radcliffe still has a role in undergraduates' lives.
President Matina S. Horner will leave the post this spring, after 17 years of guiding Radcliffe through the most turbulent period in its history and defining what Radcliffe has become today. Horner assumed the presidency in 1972, in the wake of an agreement between Harvard and Radcliffe, which unified undergraduate housing and academics. In 1977, Radcliffe fully ceded control of undergraduate life to Harvard, but retained financial and administrative independence, institutional programs and oversight of the role of women at Harvard.
In the past 17 years, Horner has effectively built up Radcliffe's many scholarly programs, establishing what many academics would call the foremost research institute on scholarship by, for, and about women. But paradoxically, although Radcliffe is now widely recognized in academic circles, most undergraduate women identify themselves as Harvard students and scarcely know that Radcliffe exists, except as a name on their letters of admission and diplomas.
In light of Radcliffe's forseeable financial difficulties, the next president must give undergraduate women a reason to believe that the institution should still exist, or contributions will dwindle as graduates cease to identify with the historical women's college.
IN recent years, Radcliffe has increasingly been accused of neglecting undergraduate women by not taking an active stance on issues affecting women at Harvard. While women at Harvard struggled to establish a Women's Studies program, fought for greater campus security, protested gender discrimination and the "chilly classroom climate," or brought complaints against the nine all-male final clubs, Radcliffe sat silently by. As one undergraduate recently put it, "There's been nary a Radcliffe voice heard on any of these issues."
As one might expect, Horner has rhetorically espoused feminist ideals, arguing for more women on the Harvard faculty, integration of gender issues into the curriculum and educational policies which go beyond "equal access" to recognize the contribution of women's "different voices" at Harvard. Through programs such as Women in Science, the mentor program and various internships, Horner has sought to foster a women's community by providing women students with positive female role models and increasing their contact with alumnae.
But few women know or take advantage of these programs and, in the long run, such small contributions aren't enough. If Radcliffe wants women to take themselves seriously, then it must begin to take itself seriously as well, not only in scholarship about women, but in their everyday lives. The next Radcliffe president should not only be a "different voice" rhetorically arguing for women's equality at Harvard, but should act on its ideals and become a force for Harvard to reckon with. As long as Harvard refuses to fully meet the needs of undergraduate women, Radcliffe still has a role in their lives.
As an historical institute for women, it's ironic that Radcliffe is erasing its own history on campus, even as it espouses the study of women's lives. While undergraduates blame Radcliffe for not taking an active interest in their lives, Radcliffe blames women today for shunning "feminism" and not actively seeking out Radcliffe's few programs.
However, if women feel they don't need to identify with Radcliffe, it is often because they do not recognize gender discrimination in our society, or feel that they don't need to identify with women in order to compete equally with men. Unfortunately, many recent Radclife alumnae have said they wish they had been more prepared as students for life beyond the Ivory Tower, where they have had to face sex discrimination, harassment and the unattainable "superwomen" ideals to which they once aspired.
IF Radcliffe's goal is, as its charter puts forth, to obtain an equal education for women at Harvard, then it should not wait for women to seek out its programs, but should actively educate women and men on campus and in the community about existing gender discrimination. Radcliffe should work with Harvard to address questions about how our society might more adequately meet women's needs in the classroom, the boardroom and the workplace.
In addition to bringing women scholars to Harvard as it does now, Radcliffe should pressure Harvard to tenure more women and should establish more active programs for undergraduates about issues of gender discrimination. Radcliffe should continue and expand its networking resources so more undergraduate women will have the chance to meet alumnae, who can serve as both mentors and possible career connections.
Radcliffe should also be more vocal on women's issues by backing HUCTW, the majority female Harvard clerical and technical workers union, and by sponsoring community programs to help women beyond the ivy walls. In addition, there are endless possibilities for Radcliffe to work in conjunction with Harvard to help women in all the graduate schools.
Many people would argue that Radcliffe should not exist at all and that the only way to achieve true equality is to begin treating women as men's equals, without any special programs or privileges. Unfortunately, women are still treated very differently at Harvard and in our society and cannot yet compete on equal terms with men, not for lack of talent, but for lack of power. While women are differentially situated, recognition must be made of their different needs, or they cannot be equal. Until Harvard recognizes this, Radcliffe must maintain an active presence on campus to ensure the equal education which it has promised women. The next Radcliffe president must recognize this imperative not only in rhetoric but in action as well.
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