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Guest speaker delivers lecture about women's leadership

By Kimberly DeLande
On March 30, 2012


Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella delivered the University of Rhode Island's 17th annual Carlson Lecture with her speech: "Women's Leadership, Generational Forgetting and the Problem of Speaking for Others."

Pasquerella began her discussion by talking about her background, to act as a "catalyst for conversation" in order to show how her own experiences "shaped her commitment to women's leadership." Pasquerella said she was raised by in a single parent household by her mother, who, Pasquerella said, was "the greatest influence of [her] life."

Her first exposure to a women's community was when she did summer peace work alongside her mother at Arrow Hart, a local light switch factory. Many of the women working at Arrow Hart feared not being able to make their quota or being sent home without an ability to provide for their children, Pasquerella said. According to Pasquerella, it was there that she came to understand the impact of gendered power structures on women's autonomy and how sexism and classism are embedded in and perpetuated by institutional and organizational cultures.

"By watching my mother in her role as a shop steward[ess], I learned how women's leadership can immediately transform these institutional cultures," Pasqurella said. "I also learned how it can empower the most vulnerable and invisible members of a community."

Pasquerella went on to attend a local community college. She was given a scholarship to her state's flagship school, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but she turned it down, in order to care for her ill mother. Two years later, she transferred to Holyoke College. Pasquerella said when she graduated, she vowed to never forget the lessons she learned from her transfer from a community college to an Ivy League school. It was this experience that led her to "strive to grant access to higher education, champion liberal education, and value women's education."

"Every day, I witness the promise of new women's leadership in the future," Pasquerella said. "However, I am mindful that there are many barriers that we still have to overcome in order to achieve gender equality.

In her discussion, Pasquerella said that despite the advances made in order to prevent discrimination against women, such as the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title IX, there needs to be increased awareness and documentation of discrimination against women. There also should be a requirement for both greater protection through enforcement of these laws, and greater representation of women in the judicial system, Pasquerella said.

Pasquerella stressed the importance of promoting education for women worldwide, and deemed it as "the most important safe guard" for a world that needs more women's leaders, and to fight against the generational forgetting of great women thinkers. To give an example of her point, Pasquerella brought up an issue in Maine, where the governor sought to remove a mural of Francis Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet and alumna of Mount Holyoke College.

"Every century has its great women thinkers," Pasquerella said, quoting Dale Spender, an Australian feminist philosopher. "But with each passing generation, the institutional politics of gender leaves women consigned to the 'lower shelves' of cultural material and eventually forgotten."

According to Pasquerella, the world needs women leaders not only to strengthen the institutional presence of women leaders, but to work against the generational forgetting of women's accomplishments. It is also necessary, Pasquerella said, not only to strengthen the institutional presence of women leaders, but because of the urgent need to deepen and exonerate the achievements of the women that came before them. Pasquerella also stressed how the uniqueness of a liberal arts education can help empower women to take leadership positions in the world.

"One of the most compelling values of a liberal arts education is that it prepares students to thrive is globally interdependent," Pasquerella said. "It helps students understand the lives of those that are different from one's self."

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