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A Safe and Tolerant Environment

Lotte Lazarsfeld Bailyn '51

I arrived at Swarthmore in the fall of 1947 without ever having seen the campus. I was struck by its beauty. Coming from a midtown Manhattan apartment, I had never experienced living in an environment of woods and lawns and trees and flowers. One memory, in particular, has stayed with me. I took a music course with Professor Swan. I may have been the only student in it; I don't recall exactly. But I remember vividly that I took my final exam by myself-in the Cloisters. Could there be a lovelier setting in which to try to compose a viola suite?

The beauty of the campus was not the only early experience that has stayed with me. Having been in a coeducational high school without ever having had a date, being asked out my first weekend-and by an upperclassman at that-was a marvelous confidence booster. It was the beginning of the role that Swarthmore played in developing my self-esteem and my sense of being able to accomplish something, however small.

On the intellectual level, the independence necessitated by the honors system has paid off many times. Indeed, nothing in getting my Ph.D., or in anything I have done since, has come close to the anxiety and final sense of achievement of the honors orals. I have vivid memories of a math oral where, for the first time, I found my professors, especially Professors Dresden and Brinkman, not looking at me and encouraging me on but, with heads bowed, worrying along with me. Professor Dresden was a very special person for me-so much so that when I got engaged a year later, I brought my fianc� down to meet him.

But back to those orals. In one, I felt particularly pleased that I had remembered something about the Heine-Borel theorem, only to be told afterward by Professor Dresden-in the gentlest possible way-that what I had said had been completely foolish.

Swarthmore also provided an opportunity for political engagement-nationally as well as in the affairs of the College. It helped me overcome a natural shyness and gave me experience in talking in front of groups and running meetings, and other skills I would use for the rest of my career.

All in all, it was a safe and tolerant environment in which to grow up.

One aspect of Swarthmore I began to appreciate only after I left. I never doubted the equality of men and women until I went to Harvard for my doctoral training in the Social Relations Department. There, I discovered I was not a Harvard student but a Radcliffe student and therefore not eligible for Harvard fellowships. I also discovered that there were no dorms in which I could live, that I couldn't be a resident tutor in an undergraduate house, that I couldn't enter the main college library, and that I had to enter the Harvard faculty club by the rear door. All because I was a woman.

None of this I was even aware of while at Swarthmore-perhaps naive on my part but clearly to the credit of the College. It was not until a full 20 years after my graduation, when I became the first woman faculty member at MIT's Sloan School of Management, that I began to feel as if I might approach the equality that was so easily taken for granted at Swarthmore. I must admit, though, that I still haven't reached the sense of "no problem" around this issue that I had so casually enjoyed during my College years. For this, as for so many other things, I am grateful that I decided to come to Swarthmore. It was a lucky instinct.

Finally, although I was a Jewish refugee from Austria, I had not come from a religious home. I did not get religion at Swarthmore, but I was struck by the Quaker tradition. From Collections and occasional visits to the meetinghouse I got a sense of collective integrity that impressed me. So now, as I occasionally, though not very often, think about retirement homes, it is only the Quaker ones that I would consider.

Lotte Bailyn, an authority on conditions of the workplace, is a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management.