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Women’s Work

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
 â€” Madeleine Korbel Albright, Wellesley College, Class of 1959

This quote from the former U.S. Secretary of State is printed on the back of one of my favorite college T-shirts and came to mind as I read the feature articles in this edition. A Civil War historian turned college president; a professor of English with a special interest in Hispanic and Latino literature; and a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright — three women making their mark in higher education. And they all no doubt had some help along the way.

Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust is the newly appointed president of Harvard University. Although she is the 350-year-old institution’s first female president, she is not the only  woman heading an Ivy League institution. She joins the presidents of Brown, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania in this elite club of women leaders.

And Faust’s appointment, while celebrated, is not without controversy, reports senior writer David Pluviose in “Right Person, Right Time.” There are those who believe that political correctness run amok is what landed her the top job. Dr. Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars says, “Since Larry Summers’ forced departure, Harvard has been anguishing over its imagined sins against women.” But Dr. Amy Gutmann, president of Penn, says Faust is the right person for the job. “Drew’s qualifications for the Harvard presidency are impeccable. I think she is an absolute natural…” People may disagree over the selection of Faust, but this will be one presidential tenure that will be followed closely.

Dr. Norma Cantú, a professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and her colleagues would like to see the works of more Hispanic and Latino writers incorporated into American literature courses, starting in the high schools. In addition, Cantú would like to see Chicano writers represented on the GRE exam for advanced studies in English. But in the meantime, “Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project,” is working to uncover the writings of Hispanic and Latino explorers, settlers and writers since the 1500s, reports contributing editor Dina Horwedel in “Expanding the Literary Canon.” Scholars say these efforts are important to better understand the cultural identities of the various Hispanic and Latino ethnic groups.

And speaking of a hunger for words, Suzan-Lori Parks is presiding over the staging by hundreds of theaters nationwide of “365 Days/365 Plays.” A few years, ago she embarked on a project to write a play everyday for a year. Parks, who is a 2001 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award and a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright — she won the award in 2002 for her play “Topdog/Underdog,” came up with this novel idea. Several colleges and universities are involved in the “365” project, where undergraduates and, in some cases, professional actors perform the various plays. On some campuses, undergraduates oversee the entire process of casting, rehearsing and presenting. It is forcing the participants to be very creative, as some of Park’s plays are just a few sentences, others are several pages, reports Mark Blankenship in “One Play a Day.”

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, this edition shows the diversity among women who are making a contribution within higher education. They may not know it, but they serve as role models to countless women.

Hilary Hurd Anyaso

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