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Bowdoin celebrates 50 years of women on campus

October 1, 2021

Courtesy of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine.
SEMICENTENNIAL SUCCESS: The first of many celebrations commemorating women at Bowdoin were well-attended and well-received, in large part thanks to the efforts of alumnae themselves.

On September 24 and 25, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations hosted a series of alumnae-organized virtual events to kick off a yearlong celebration entitled “Leaders in All Walks of Life: 50 Years of Women at Bowdoin.”

The festivities began on Friday with a session entitled “Using Our Voices: The Bowdoin Experience of Women of Color.” A series of subsequent events, including keynotes and panel discussions, continued through Saturday. They featured a wide variety of topics, from Bowdoin women in leadership to the impact of women on the College. The sessions were held virtually, and recordings are available to the public.

As with many alumni events, the Alumni Office relied heavily on Bowdoin graduates themselves to make this programming possible.

“[The] professional staff at the College worked on the [the] logistical aspects: where we need to be when, will the door be unlocked, will there be chairs, microphones, etc.,” Senior Associate Director of Alumni Relations Sarah Cameron said. “Alums really drive the content of the programs. They know their friends, their classmates, their teammates or whatever group we’re gathering best of all …in an effort to allow the programs to feel as authentic and personal as possible, we recruit large groups of volunteers to help us guide those programs. This celebration was no exception to that. We had a fantastic host committee—it was the largest one I’ve ever worked with, [made up of] about 100 alumnae.”

Even when faced with the uncertainty of COVID-19, the host committee remained steadfast in its commitment to making these events happen.

“The group designed two parallel paths (in-person and virtual) for whatever direction we needed to go in, so that the program could transition really seamlessly and smoothly without losing any of the value of the program,” Cameron said.

The online format did provide certain advantages. When it was scheduled to be an in-person program, the alumni office hoped to have 150 people in attendance; the online audience shattered that threshold, with 300 people watching live. Moreover, the recorded sessions allow for asynchronous community engagement.

“One of the great benefits of us being able to do it virtually is that all of those programs have been recorded, so now we’ll be able to share [them.] The number of people that are able to engage with the content is only going to increase,” Cameron said. “I can’t tell you how many emails I have had this week, not only from campus people and alums, saying ‘Do you have that recording? Is that recording posted yet? Can I please see that recording?’”

As for future events commemorating women at Bowdoin, Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Mary Baumgartner remained cautiously optimistic.

“As much as possible, we’re hoping that the campus can seem very familiar in the way that we do events. The campus status levels have a lot to do with determining what’s possible,” Baumgartner said. “Part of the challenge is having to be prepared to pivot, but also attempting to have in-person experiences and events.”

The hard work of Bowdoin alumnae made these events possible, but current students were involved too.

“This was a kickoff weekend to what will be a yearlong campus celebration,” Cameron said. “Having students involved and having the student voice …seemed very important, so they were official members of the host committee as well.”

Current Bowdoin students are also encouraged to contribute to the discussion surrounding Bowdoin’s impact on women and the impact of Bowdoin women on the College. The alumni office has put together an online space for past and present Bowdoin women to share their experiences at the College, underscoring the need to examine not only the past, but also the future role of women at Bowdoin.

“We’re thinking about how we can look back, but really also look forward,” Baumgartner said. “That was a big theme for the alumni volunteers—they didn’t want it all to be retrospective. They want to be actively thinking about the role that women will play in the College [going forward].”


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