Last Friday, I had the privilege of sitting in on a focus group conducted by students in Dr. Shelley Tomkin’s seminar on public opinion polling. What a great affirmation of Trinity’s mission in women’s leadership development! The students organized a highly disciplined and effective session in which other students, faculty and staff answered a series of questions about current politics. I will not go into the details here since the actual report will come from the class and I don’t want to pre-empt their fine work. But I do want to share a few observations.
First — alumnae, watch out! As we have in the past, Trinity is doing a great job preparing leaders for the next generation. Sometimes, I’m asked by friends in the community if today’s Trinity students will match the tremendous achievements of alumnae like Nancy Pelosi ’62 or Kathleen Sebelius ’70 or Cathie Black ’66 or Maggie Williams ’77. Match them? Good heavens, our sights are even higher! As I watched this class the other day, I imagined I could hear the echo of that old Trinity song, “By and by we’ll go out to beat them…” Yes, the bar is set quite high, but today’s students are well on their way to being tomorrow’s great leaders in their own right.
Second — great students reflect the hard work of great faculty. Dr. Shelley Tomkin is an example of the tireless devotion of Trinity’s faculty to student excellence. When people ask me whether today’s Trinity students are held to the same high standards as previous generations, I point to the rigor and discipline of faculty members like Dr. Tomkin. She expects her students to do exceptional work every day. Dr. Minerva San Juan and Dr. Robert Redmond also gave generously of their time, along with Assistant Dean Vanessa Kilpatrick and Future Focus Director Veronica Gonzalez. The presence of these fine teachers and advisors reminded me that students really do respond best to high faculty expectations at Trinity.
Third — like thousands of Trinity students in prior generation, today’s women have found their voices and are not afraid to raise them for the right causes. Trinity women do not all think alike, and our differences are clear in the way we express our opinions on a broad range of issues. The room on Friday included unabashed partisans — Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Obama supporters, Clinton supporters, McCain supporters. In true Trinity fashion, the speakers listened well and politely to each other, but yielded little ground in stating their own positions.
Uncharacteristically, I kept quite and listened for the entire session, except at the end. I then told the students something I believe so passionately: that we all must treasure the rare educational opportunity that women have here at Trinity, and then use this education as a force for great good in our world. The vast majority of the world’s women, particularly women of color, not only remain uneducated, but also silent. In too many places around the world, women’s lack of educational opportunity is a deliberate political choice, one with devastating economic consequences. Relatively few women on this vast planet have the opportunity, the security, the safe places and educational training to speak their minds, to give voice to their fondest hopes. In this year when race and gender are large issues in our national presidential election, we should not forget that America is a place where we have the luxury of such discussions, and American universities are places where bright minds can plumb the historical and philosophical and anthropological and religious and social depths of these issues. In too much of the rest of the world, there’s no time for such polite discussion, there’s only the grim reality of the consequences of appalling discrimination and oppression.
I came away from the seminar affirmed once again in my pride in Trinity. Trinity students today, inspired by the achievements of the great women who walked the Marble Corridor before them, exercise their voices and hone their talents here to get ready to take on the large tasks of leadership for the next generations of the global village.