by Clare Doyle
As another Women’s History Month comes to a close, we at Third Chapter have read and watched many articles and features on women’s accomplishments and leadership over the past year. And others reminding us that as much as women are succeeding they are still struggling. In particular, women of color face racism and barriers in social mobility, wage equality, academia, housing, etc., — barriers which the coronavirus has cast into high relief.
Many of us may have wondered what it would be like to live in a world where the majority of women were the leaders, lawmakers and CEOs. What would change? In an interview this month with HBCU Buzz, Suzanne Elise Walsh, President of Bennett College, has some insights into what that culture might be like. Although founded as a co-ed institution, Bennett College is now one of only two all-women HBCUs (the other is Spelman College).
In the clip below President Walsh discusses her role at Bennett (she was appointed president in August 2019). Asked what is like to be at an all-woman HBCU, she said:
“It’s how the world should be – and by that, I mean women are leaders all over campus.”
All student club leaders and most of Walsh’s leadership team are women of color, as are many of the faculty.
“Some people call that Utopia; I just call that reality —the future. Get ready for the future! I think that the culture is therefore one that reinforces the importance and the role of black women as leaders. It just says this is possible, this is the world that we live in. I think that the culture is also supportive because of that. It’s a place where it’s okay to make mistakes, because you’re not going to be judged because you’re a woman, a woman of color.”
Asked about the role of graduates after they leave campus, President Walsh joked that it might be described as “Hidden Figures II: the Bennet College Story.”
“The thing that I love about Bennett is the women who go to Bennet are the behind-the-scenes leaders. . . . If you look to see who’s really behind the work that everybody knows about, you’ll often find Bennet women there.”
As we begin to look forward to the return of higher education, and the rest of our world, to something resembling our pre-COVID lives, there is a unique opportunity to use lessons learned to imagine a society that begins to address the inequalities highlighted in the past year, and the campus culture of an all-women’s HBCU may have lessons for the rest of us.
James Mwangi, Chairman of Equity Group Foundation, has been talking recently about the need for leadership in Africa. In the Global North, 54% of leaders come from the liberal arts (per the Academy of Arts and Sciences). Third Chapter’s mission is to help provide resources for a more robust liberal arts education for the future leaders of the Global South. We hope that you will accompany us on that journey.