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Recently, from articles in campus publications to the talk in dining halls, I find complaints either that there is no women's community here, or if there is one, that it is fractured. Although I generally agree with this sentiment, models for change are readily available on this campus.
There are many groups at Harvard-Radcliffe serving women, yet rarely do any collaborate on projects or even sit around and chat. Oddly enough, students have not looked to Radcliffe to ameliorate this rift. Many see Radcliffe as an impotent, insignificant, even inferior version of Harvard. Students ask, what has Radcliffe ever done for us? Well, if you compare her to Harvard, Radcliffe has probably done very little. But why must we see Radcliffe only in relation to and dependent upon Harvard? Why can't we acknowledge Radcliffe's potential as an independent, empowering institution for women.
If we are to create a stronger women's community and a stronger Radcliffe, we must not limit ourselves by narrow definitions. To me, a women's community is any group of strong, intelligent, supportive yet independent women coming together over issues of interest to them. And Radcliffe is defined by those who adopt her name. A model for an improved women's community and an empowered Radcliffe exists beneath our very noses: Radcliffe athletics.
For the last 30 years, Radcliffe has been the quiet center of athletic excellence. Currently composed of four teams (crew, rugby, ultimate frisbee, and a tennis club) these squads draw more than 125 women every year. While dependent on Harvard (as part of the athletic department), these teams have carved their ownseparate niche. Each team wears the black and white. When it competes, most of the time no one has any idea that its members go to Harvard. Under the guise of Radcliffe, these women can compete as athletes, viewed simply for their strength and competitive edge. In competition, it is all about Radcliffe. As a former rower and current rugger, I can honestly say there nothing is more inspirational than hearing shouts of "Go Cliffies" from the river banks.
Why would these teams choose to ally with Radcliffe instead of Harvard? Because Radcliffe provides a community of women considered, not in relation to Harvard, but as a separate entity. These teams explicitly choose to maintain the Radcliffe name in the spirit of women's achievement and empowerment. Motivated by the ideals of athletic competitiveness, inclusion, and the development of women's leadership, Radcliffe athletics provides the undergraduate women of Harvard-Radcliffe with a unique opportunity to develop as athletes and as individuals.
Each of the Radcliffe teams is focused on a common goal. Yet, we as members are distinct individuals. Our team represents a diverse group of women who in other circumstances might never have met. For example, Radcliffe Rugby draws as many members from Girl Spot as it does from the Christian Fellowship. While I do not necessarily see eye to eye with all of my teammates, I benefit greatly from the time spent getting to know each other. Through our differences, we often discover much about ourselves.
In rugby, it is the custom to celebrate with the opposing side after the game. Over that beer I learn much about cooperation, humility, and good sportsmanship, qualities all activists could use.
These approaches to community pay off. On the field, Radcliffe athletics has achieved tremendous success. Our Rugby team is currently fourth in the nation, and next month we head to nationals to compete for first. Our bonds off the field are just as strong. I know that I can depend on my teammates for anything. While they are not all among my immediate circle of friends, I look forward to practices because I am not just learning about rugby, I am learning about life.
I would like to see other women at Harvard-Radcliffe develop a model for a women's community similar to that of Radcliffe's athletic teams.
Other groups on campus should find similar pride in Radcliffe's name the way the teams do. Not everyone is interested in the blisters and bruises that we athletes love so dearly. So why not use Radcliffe's other resources, such as the Bunting Institute, Schlesinger Library and externships, to develop as scholars and individuals? Use the physical space of Radcliffe. Do cartwheels in the Yard. Sing and dance in Agassiz theater.
Let us come together for common goals. This Saturday marks the beginning of the Radcliffe Union of Students Take Back the Night week (beginning with the Take Back the River Run, coincidentally enough). During the week, more than 21 different groups will coordinate workshops, seminars and lectures pertaining to women's safety issues. Let us continue this kind of co-sponsorship and coalition building. We have much to learn from each other.
At the same time let us relish our individuality. Tennis, Crew and Ultimate Frisbee are not all the same, and neither are Latinas Unidas, RADWAC, and the Domestic Crisis Outreach Committee. Each group has separate needs and desires that need to be recognized, valued and discussed.
Let us meet informally as well. Not all community building needs to happen at formal functions. At last week's RUS meeting, women of all religions--from Hindu and Muslim to Christian and Jewish--came together to talk about how religion and gender intersect in their lives. We had not known each other before, but we were able to talk frankly and find support from gathering together.
Let us also meet informally to have fun. Laughter can rejuvenate as well as build communities. The Lyman Common room has the biggest TV and comfiest couches around. Why not use them for movie night and pizza parties? If there is one thing that rugby has taught me, a community that parties together stays together.
Heather Haxo Phillips '97-'98 is the secretary of RUS.
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