Last weekend was packed with activity! In addition to our own Homecoming (some great pictures at that link) I was a keynote speaker at the installation of my Bryn Mawr classmate, Pilar Cabeza de Vaca, as Head of School at Madeira.
The event was a wonderful reminder of the power of the women’s college/girls’ school network. There are a number of women who graduated from both Madeira and Sweet Briar, of course. Pilar, during our undergraduate years, went on Sweet Briar’s Junior Year in France. A Sweet Briar alum is the new head of the riding program at Madeira. And so on. . .
I was asked to speak about women’s education. The text from which I spoke has been posted, if you’d like to read the whole thing. But the essence of what I had to say is in these paragraphs:
“Often we think about girls’ schools and women’s colleges as existing for the education of girls and women. But increasingly I find myself thinking about them as providing education FOR girls and women. I’d like to spend my last minute or two saying a bit about what that means to me, and what I think it means for Madeira.
Education FOR girls and women means that schools like Madeira and colleges like Sweet Briar can say something that no coeducational institution can say – which is that every program, every resource, every activity is directed toward to the success of female students. If you want to be someplace where your ambitions, your abilities, and your achievements are at the center, a girl’s school or women’s college is that place. And, yes, I would say the same thing for single sex institutions for males; I think it is fair to say that for many young men a single sex option can be extremely beneficial. Madeira is entirely FOR its women students as no coeducational school could ever be.
But an education FOR women means something larger as well. As Madeira students and faculty, or alumnae of women’s colleges, we here today enjoy enormous educational privilege. As people dedicated to education for women, we must make sure that we remain mindful of women who are less educationally privileged than we. If anyone is to teach and learn about the status of women and girls around the world, we should. If anyone is to support community programs to benefit girls and women near our campuses, we should. If anyone should go on to do medical research on women’s health issues, to pursue legal careers in human rights, to make public policy that is family and environment friendly, to develop economic programs that empower women financially, to create legislation that protects the youngest and the oldest, to bring peace and safety to war zones, it should be graduates of girls’ schools and women’s colleges.
So, to Madeira, I say this: don’t simply educate women students here. Educate students FOR women here, educate students FOR women in a global society in which the economic, educational, and citizenship rights of women are still in many places contested and insecure.”