Women find identity on history’s new stage

At GW’s Mount Vernon campus, the “Women and Power” program is working to establish a community where women are encouraged to develop their full potential and explore their relationship with the world around them.

The yearlong residential living and learning program, established this year, welcomed almost 30 freshman women in a variety of majors and undergraduate schools, said Caroline Dexter, director of the program.Dexter said the program was developed in response to the tendency in education to focus on the accomplishments of men without exploring the achievements of women. Social research showed women lacked role models they could look up to, she said.

To challenge this inclination, the program’s faculty planners developed a series of two courses and a symposium. For their single year of participation in the program, each student receives an $8,000 scholarship, renewable for four years as long as they maintain a 2.7 grade point average.

Living together in MVC’s Clark Hall, the group takes a series of courses focusing on women’s relationship to power in the Western world. Catherine Frank, the program’s graduate teaching assistant, lives with the students in the residence hall. Though her job is to provide academic assistance, students said she is also a link to extracurricular activities and events that foster a more personal family atmosphere.

“(Frank) is extremely open and up front and is willing to help at anytime,” student Wallis Patulski said.

An interdisciplinary course entitled “Women in the Western World” was the women’s first course. The course traced the development of Western thought and institutions, with focusing on the role and definition of women. Combining history and English composition in one course proved effective, students said.

“The ideas and themes discussed are fascinating,” Sasha Bice said. “It’s a new and interesting way to explore what’s been written.”

The symposium draws women in leadership roles from different careers and fields to deliver a presentation and hold a discussion with the students. Recent lectures included former Rep. Pat Schroder (D-Col.) and Linda Greenhouse, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times.

“The speakers made me more aware of women in the career world who are now strong women leaders,” Patulski said. “It helped to put names to faces and made me realize that we can do this.”

The program has external connections to two women’s organizations that provide links to women in the workplace and internship opportunities. Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), is a network of women’s colleges dedicated to preparing women for positions of leadership. The other, Women’s Policy Inc., is a non-partisan organization that researches legislation affecting women.

“I was able to find out about the Women in Media program that I will be working at,” student Rachel Joelson said. The students involved in the program also found it helped them with their freshman year at college. Shared classes and living quarters enabled them to establish close relationships with fellow students and their teachers, students said.

“It was the best transition into college life,” Joelson said.

First semester, students at the Mount Vernon campus reported problems commuting to the Foggy Bottom campus, where they also take classes. But now shuttle schedules, once irregular, have been smoothed out, and many students said they enjoy living at MVC.

“We get the advantages of both places,” student Romie Stott said. “We are attached to a big university and all it offers while at the same time we have the closeness and individual attention of a small campus.”

Five students in the program have decided to enroll again next year, when classes will include a seminar on women in American history.

“This program is the reason I came to GW,” Stott said. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”

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