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DURING my first year at college, Radcliffe meant brunches, holiday receptions and a minor commitment to the undergraduate women's community. When Matina S. Horner resigned her position and Radcliffe began looking for a new president, I was excited about the prospect of a more effective Radcliffe.
When Linda S. Wilson was chosen for the post, I thought she could bring about this change. Wilson's record as a respected scientist and advocate for faculty diversity at the University of Michigan revealed her potential for improving Radcliffe tremendously.
I then thought of the specific needs of undergraduate women at Harvard-Radcliffe that Wilson could begin to address: better security, improved minority and women faculty hiring, a women's center, a way to discourage the flight of women from the natural sciences and a means of educating our fellow students about the dangers of sexism and using sexist language.
I planned to go to Wilson's office hours to discuss these concerns. I was dismayed to find out that her office hours last only from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m on Thursdays. This was the first sign that Wilson was not prepared to consider student suggestions and act upon them.
As the months progressed, I realized that Wilson had set a course for Radcliffe that would not easily be altered by the opinions of undergraduate women.
WILSON'S acceptance of the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees' goal of "enrich[ing] the lives of undergraduates" first appeared in the September 1989 issue of the Radcliffe Quarterly.
Wilson later defined this goal as improving connections between undergraduates and post-graduate research at Radcliffe. In the Radcliffe Quarterly, she stated that she "will strive to provide an enabling environment for research and scholarship and to increase the linkages between those activities and the lives of undergraduates."
Unfortunately, the relentless pursuit of this vision leaves little room for more relevant problems that undergraduates may face. The focus on graduate programs implicitly devalues the concerns of undergraduate women.
When asked about the dearth of female undergraduates in the sciences at a holiday reception, Wilson suggested having research fellows at the Mary Bunting Institute serve as role models for undergraduate women at Harvard-Radcliffe. She envisioned undergraduates speaking to Bunting fellows and then eventually choosing to pursue postdoctoral research at the Bunting Institute.
Did Wilson consider the effects of the lack of female graduate students and faculty in the sciences? Or the impact on women of harrassment in science courses? Since Wilson herself is a scientist, I had hoped she would be concerned with the dwindling number of women science concentrators and advocate additional hiring of women faculty who could act as true role models for undergraduate women. But Wilson's focus on the Bunting Institute merely diverted attention from the real problems facing women in science.
Perhaps Wilson has not thought about the key issues facing undergraduate women. At a recent event, Wilson seemed surprised to hear calls for a women's center on campus. She argued that a student center might be more appropriate than a women's center, despite the increased need for a central location to sponsor women's events.
Another possibility is that Wilson is afraid to raise controversial issues. When confronted by her inaction, she gives the excuse that she is "earning her stripes" and cannot criticize Harvard-Radcliffe, or simply make suggestions to Harvard-Radcliffe administrators, because she is a "newcomer."
How long does this "newcomer" status last? When will Wilson make the transition from a "newcomer" to a president who effects a change in the undergraduate women's community? Will Wilson have "earned her stripes" by the time my classmates and I follow our presumed role models' footsteps and begin post-doctoral research at the Bunting Institute?
ON FEBRUARY 23, when Linda Wilson is officially inaugurated, we will witness the beginning of a new era at Radcliffe. This new era might signify more holiday receptions, a senior brunch, the senior soiree, and a minor committment to the undergraduate women's community. But it can mean more. If Wilson makes a more earnest attempt to listen to undergraduate women and concentrates less on graduate programs, Radcliffe will take an important first step towards truly "enrich[ing] the lives of undergraduate women."
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