I was thrilled when I received an acceptance letter from Bryn Mawr College.
Bryn Mawr was dedicated to educating women at the same level as many of the Ivy League institutions, like Harvard and Yale, many of which did not admit women in 1885 when the school was co-founded by M. Carey Thomas.
Thomas was an amazing woman, someone who resembled the feminists of her time: no whining, hike up your sleeves and get the job done. She saw that the way to empower women was through education, and helped establish a school that proudly touted a pedigree that rivaled any of the male institutions.
She was also an antisemite and a racist, something that was not particularly unusual, given the time period.
Context should matter, but as we shall see, it no longer does in this post-Orwellian world.
I personally remember feeling like an outlier at Bryn Mawr. Even with a respectable 1240 on my SATs and Commended Student status, I was at the bottom rung of my class in terms of academic excellence.
My guidance counselor told me that I was admitted because I was an overachiever.
Apparently, taking all of those AP classes in high school was a sign that, in the words of Robert Browning, “my reach had exceeded my grasp” and the heaven at the end of it was Bryn Mawr.
That conversation is one of the reasons I adored this school. It’s also one of the reasons that I still cherish the memory of what it once was.
But recent events, including a disturbing email that another alumna sent to me from the Board of Trustees establish beyond any doubt that this Bryn Mawr is a distant memory.
The new Bryn Mawr prioritizes having the right political opinions and an affinity for erasing history over taking AP classes.
The most objectionable part of the email states that the school has decided to remove an inscription honoring Thomas from the main library, all the while groveling over the fact that this might not even be enough to calm the triggered:
“We acknowledge the harm and hurt Thomas’ legacy of exclusion, racism, and antisemitism has caused for so many, and understand that the removal of an inscription does not alone redress that pain. We do believe that the removal of the inscription will open a door to healing and encourage the continuing work we do together to make Bryn Mawr a community of welcome and belonging.”
First things first. As a white woman at Bryn Mawr in the late ’70s, I was in a slight majority of the population.
However, women of color were widely represented, as well as sexual and religious minorities.
They were, to a person, treated with respect.
I don’t remember anyone saying to me that they felt “othered.” That might be because back in 1979, people weren’t stupid enough to turn a noun into a verb.
But I can’t be the only one who had a good experience at Bryn Mawr in the dark ages, when a woman’s college admitted actual women, and not the sort of person that identifies as a woman even though she urinates standing up.
How dare these women, who are benefiting from the blood, sweat and tears of a flawed pioneer decide that she is no longer “worthy” of being honored at the school she made possible?
How dare they presume to speak for the community when there are many of us out here who are appalled and disgusted with the censorial actions of a school we supported for many years. How dare our voices be silenced?
Frankly, if there is a student at my alma mater who is thrust into a state of mental paralysis by viewing a bronze plaque that memorializes our exceptional, troubling and human founder, perhaps we should provide she/her with a pair of sunglasses so the glare of the truth will not bring tears to her tender eyes.
I’d pay for that.
Perhaps the school should also harken back to its original mission, namely, educating “cussed individuals” who did not have a pack mentality and try and demonize those who didn’t belong in their pack.
Perhaps it should exclude from the student body that sort of woman, since she contributes significantly less to the community than a fierce and fearless feminist did, almost a hundred and forty years ago.
Reunion will be fun, this year.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at email@example.com