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Lotte Bailyn '51

As I stand here and look out at all of you, I imagine what it would have been like had I stood here at my own commencement, 61 years ago. I would certainly have been aware of the beauty of the place - it never changes - and something of the hopes and dreams of those I was looking at. But I would not have seen the diversity of faces that I see today. I remember only one black student from my days at Swarthmore and he was an African. It's true, I would have seen as many women as I see today, but as an undergraduate I had no idea what a remarkable place Swarthmore was, at that time, for women students. I quickly realized that when I arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for graduate school. I was a Radcliffe student, and though destined for a Harvard education I had no Harvard financial aid, and no dormitory to live in.  On top of this, I soon discovered that women couldn't get into the main student library and that if I went to the faculty club I had to enter by a back door and could not eat in the main dining room. Nothing at Swarthmore had prepared me for that. Luckily, none of this is true today. Women students are Harvard students, dormitories are co-educational, my Radcliffe Ph.D. has morphed into a Harvard one, and in the faculty club there often are more women than men. And so I ask myself, are we now an inclusive society? 

At MIT, in a recent analysis, we found that our students and faculty of color, particularly African-Americans, have experiences that are quite different from those of their white male colleagues, and that these experiences are exclusionary. But what is particularly worrying is that we found that this white majority had no perception of this whatever. They were sure that their intentions were good and that they were treating everyone the same. But research shows that the attempt by whites to be color blind, to try to ignore race in cross-race interactions, may be experienced by people of color as a dismissive, racist attitude, even though that is not the intention. We didn't understand these deeper, underlying, more subtle issues because they were covered over by the glaring, blatant inequities that existed at that time. We thought, naively, that eliminating these gross injustices would solve everything. But it didn't. As you go out into a world that is very diverse - and getting more so -  I hope you will work for a society that knows how to deal with differences constructively: a society that does not just ignore differences but values and learns from them.

So too, my generation cheered as more and more women went into paid employment and into professions that had previously been primarily male. Surely, we thought, gender equity was right around the corner. Again we were naïve. We valued this change in women's roles, without really noticing that men's roles were staying pretty much the same. How could this work out? We welcomed laws to ensure equal opportunity for women and equal pay in the workplace, and supported these goals, which are still not fully realized. But we didn't clearly recognize that if all adults in a household are in paid employment we also need laws and policies to provide care for children, for the elderly, and for our communities. And these are very slow in coming, at least in the United States. But without institutional change to fully support families, gender equity is not just around the corner.

We also didn't realize how much our workplaces are organized as if people had no other responsibilities except for their paid work. We didn't recognize how employer expectations and practices completely ignore a worker's personal life, which has its own responsibilities and concerns. We didn't appreciate how an overemphasis on participation and success in employment can jeopardize the care needed by our families and communities. But our society needs both, and so we have to rethink how we produce the goods and services in the economy without creating a crisis of care. We need a new agenda, a new agenda not only for women but for men, for family as well as for work. And for all of this we need your help, or to put it differently and perhaps more accurately, my generation and the generation between us - your parents, maybe even your grandparents - did a lot, but not enough. It's your turn now and we wish you good luck.

So let me end by congratulating you on your accomplishments - Swarthmore was never a breeze - and wishing you well for the future.


Listen: President Chopp's Charge to Lotte Bailyn '51

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