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  • Playing the Hands We’re Dealt

    May 1, 2016


    So this really big bully guy called the girl names and said mean things hoping she’d slink away crying, and instead, the girl schooled the bully into how to turn cheap insults into motivating forces.

    Hillary has nothing going for her except “the woman card,” said Donald with a sneer.

    Well, if standing up for better health care and women’s rights is playing that card, “Deal me in!” retorted Hillary.

    She’s even selling a bright pink “woman card” and a deck of “women cards” on her website.  Surely more delicious than a Trump steak.

    People have to make their own choices about who to vote for in this election year, and certainly it’s not my place to endorse a particular candidate publicly.  But that does not mean remaining silent about the critical social, intellectual and moral issues playing out in this ugliest of all political seasons.  We all have a responsibility to call out candidates whose tactics and discourse are insults to the general public and our shared American values.

    Trashing women, who are more than half of the electorate, is a dumb idea for any politician, but it also reveals a profoundly misogynist character that has no place in any position of public trust.  The president of the United States is president for all of us, not just a favored group of business pals.  Dismissing the accomplishments of a woman who has not only held numerous public positions — First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State — but engaged a remarkably broad spectrum of political, economic, diplomatic and business issues for many years is simply a gross lie.  Disagree with her, fine, but do not dismiss her!  Hillary Clinton’s track record in public life may be controversial in places, but it surely trumps Trump’s whose main claims to fame were manufactured through real estate deals and reality television shows.

    Central to Trump’s insult against Hillary’s gender is some inchoate idea that being a woman, all by itself, conveys a mantle of privilege that is inaccessible to a less experienced white male.  Really??  Wow.

    Only those of us who are card-carrying women know what that woman’s card really means.

    It means having the boss tell you that, no, you can’t have a secretary like the other (male) managers have in your office because, “You type faster than anyone here.” (All of these tales are real from my own experience.)

    It means having that same boss tell you, in the middle of an intense discussion about a work issue, “You know, there are times when you seem especially touchy about everything.”  Yeah, right.

    It means being told by another boss that while you’re really good at what you do, he would rather have a “graybeard” in your job — as I was told many years ago as a reason for being passed over for a promotion.

    It means that when that “graybeard” fails and the boss comes back to beg you to take over the job, he still offers you only 60% of what the graybeard earned in the same position. It means being told, “Well, he has a family, you don’t.”

    That woman’s card means you are constantly asking yourself whether, this time, you should stand up and fight, or sit down and swallow your anger once more.  Sometimes you do have to play the hand you’re dealt in order to move ahead.  I had to learn that early in my career, choosing not to fight but, instead, learning the truth of the advice that says, “Don’t get mad, get even.”

    I took that advice to heart, and in many ways, I’ve won the argument.  I’ve had a far more privileged life than most women — a college president is a position well up on the career ladder.  And yet, sometimes, being high up on the ladder simply means that we can see through the glass ceiling even more clearly.  The barrier is still there, and the harder we push, the more exhausting it can seem on many days.

    Even at my advanced stage of life, I still sit in meetings where I am the only or one of very few women at the table.  I still have the experience of listening to the men talk and talk and talk, and when I venture to say one thing, I get interrupted.  I’ve had men say to me, gee, you seemed pretty aggressive in that meeting when, in fact, I spoke only once.  Yes, that actually has happened more than once.  In one group where I was the only woman on a particular board, one of the men made a habit of going after me in a publicly humiliating way every time I spoke up.  “There she goes again,” was the actual phrase. The other men at the table studied their notes.

    It’s no secret that even while women are nearly 60% of the students in higher education, women are just about 25% of the presidents — and that’s good compared to the dreadful stats on women editors-in-chief, chief medical officers, law firm partners, CEOs of major companies, members of boards of directors.  All less than 20%.  And no, you cannot attribute that to women choosing to stay on the sidelines, having babies and deferring to male careers.

    The fact remains that too many men in positions of power do not support women moving into similar positions, and the tone they set — the tone that Donald Trump has established for his campaign — adds diamond-hard layers to the glass ceiling.  Sadly, there are women who actually buy into that shameful kind of sexist ideology — it’s no secret that women can be the worst critics of women who aspire to leadership and power. Guys like The Donald love to watch us fight.  Let’s stop it!

    Hillary Clinton’s blithe retort of “Deal me in!” is the best possible response.  We surely have to know what we’re up against, but we have to play the hands we’re dealt.  Let’s play them well — winning is surely the best revenge!



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    Harriet Tubman: Justice At Last!

    April 21, 2016

    harriet-tubman-quoteHarriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill! This is great news!  A woman who stood for justice and freedom at last gets her due, an honored place in American history and culture.

    And, predictably, the announcement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew evoked a torrent of hatred from the usual wingnut quarters.  Donald Trump, ever pandering to the haters, demeaned the decision as “pure political correctness” rather than simple justice.  A conservative media personality who should know better — Greta Van Sustern — called the decision “stupid.”  These are some of the nasty comments I can actually write about on this blog.  The deeper corners of Internet Hatred Syndrome pulsed with despicable racist venom.  What has happened to our country that even something wonderful — honoring a great, heroic historic woman — becomes a cause for so much ugly commentary?

    Harriet Tubman would not be afraid or deterred by such an ugly display of some of the worst traits of American culture.  She suffered worse, far worse, as a slave.  We cannot imagine the courage, fortitude and sheer willpower it took for her to escape slavery and then risk her freedom to help others do the same.  She facilitated the Underground Railroad, that extraordinarily dangerous pathway to freedom for thousands of slaves.  She worked tirelessly for the cause of abolition, and fearlessly spoke out in favor of women’s suffrage.  Her example of courage in the face of grave personal danger, triumph over slavery and racial hatred, and devotion to the fundamental cause of human freedom and justice is something we Americans need to remember as a vital part of our history — and every $20 bill will remind us!

    Americans have long been used to images of men on currency and coins — Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, and other “dead presidents” have looked upon our spending habits for generations.  Getting equal status for women on coins and currency has been fraught with controversy.

    I know something about this because for a brief period of time, in 1998, I was a member of something called the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee appointed by then-Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin.  Our group of 8 citizen leaders included artists, politicians, public officials, coin experts, and me as the representative not only of higher education but a women’s institution.   At that time, near the end of the Clinton Administration, the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was fading, considered a failure in some quarters (no pun intended) because it resembled a quarter and was not widely used by consumers.  The Clinton Administration had a strong bias in favor of keeping a woman on the dollar coin, but wanted to find a way to make the coin more popular.

    The U.S. Mint made some choices at that time to try to stimulate public acceptance:  they made the coin gold in color, and with a different feel from quarters.  But most important, they asked our committee to recommend an image of an important woman in American history.

    The process was fascinating, but politically quite fraught.  I quickly learned that one of the greatest of all women in American History — Eleanor Roosevelt — had little chance because of the persistent rumors about her personal life.  No matter that history had already revealed the infidelity of her husband Franklin whose profile is on the dime.  Women must be perfect in all ways to be elevated to the status of national heroes.

    After listening to a great many suggestions in public testimony, and discussion among the cognoscenti on the committee, it became clear that an image was already a favorite — Sacagawea, the heroic Shoshone woman whose guidance of Lewis & Clark opened the American West.  A good choice, but eminently safe because the story of Sacagawea had been burnished by the length of history.  And so, the Sacagawea dollar coin was born, and then quickly faded into obscurity along with Susan B. Anthony.

    Part of the problem with both dollar coins — Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony — is the simple fact that we don’t use dollar coins very much, preferring the lighter weight and feel of paper money.  The Treasury even played with the idea of retiring dollar bills, but the paper lobby would not hear of it.  It’s always interesting to know what interests are behind promoting or blocking public policy concepts!  (See this good analysis: Why the Sacajawea dollar coin was a failure)

    The Tubman 20 should have a much better fate — $20 bills are the standard currency these days, they’re what ATM machines deliver with too much frequency, and who doesn’t delight in finding one or two stuck in coat pockets or tumbling around the dryer?  A $20 bill has gravity, a value that’s high enough that we really care about it, a frequent companion for groceries, dinner, drinks or cab fare.

    Will it make any difference in America’s tortured culture wars about race and gender to have Tubman on the currency?  I like to think that the more we mainstream our history, the more likely it is that future generations will be less contentious about these issues and more accepting of race, class, gender, language, religion, and other differences as normal and not anomalous.  Making our daily encounters of historic figures on currency may seem like a small step, but every symbol is important, and every image helps to create a “new normal” for the nation.  Our diversity is normal, and embracing diversity is a matter of justice.

    Hooray for Harriet!  We should celebrate this small but mighty step forward in the long arc of seeking justice for all people in this nation.

    Note:  I’m very excited about the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center that is  under construction on the edge of the fabulous Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland, near Cambridge.  The co-location of the Tubman historic site with this great environmental location also provides rich opportunities for research, teaching and learning in many disciplines.  I do a lot of wildlife photography at Blackwater and through exploring that area I’ve also come to understand how remote and treacherous the work of the Underground Railroad really was.  I urge members of the Trinity community to add these sites to your own explorations — perhaps take a detour on your way to the beach in the summer, or a long weekend drive to the Eastern Shore where you can consume history, environmental science and some excellent blue crabs!

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    Remembering Maurice “Mo” Drake

    April 7, 2016

    MauriceToday the Trinity family lost a beloved member of our Food Service team. Maurice “Mo” Drake passed away unexpectedly.  He was a staunch pillar of the Sodexho group, leader of the Utilities Team and a union representative.  He was unfailingly proud of his work at Trinity, congenial and deeply dedicated to excellence in all that he did.  My favorite photo of Mo is above, his face reflecting the joy we all shared during a Founders Day barbecue a year or two ago.  I know I will miss seeing him in the dining hall and around campus, he was part of the essential fabric of Trinity life.  Godspeed, Mo, and know that we will be remembering you fondly in the days to come.  Our condolences are with his family, Sodexho colleagues, and all friends who cherished his company.

    Please add your memories of Mo using the comment link below.

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    April 4, 1968: Tragedy and Leadership

    April 4, 2016

    You won’t hear much about this in the unseemly rhetoric of most presidential candidates this year, but today is the 48th anniversary of the tragic day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  That night, one of the presidential candidates in that year, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, delivered this memorable speech from the back of a flatbed trailer in Indianapolis in the middle of a Black neighborhood there.  Listen to the speech on YouTube and read the text.  And try to imagine any of today’s candidates having this much courage, intellectual range and emotional strength.

    This is the full text of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis, April 4, 1968:

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

    Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

    We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

    For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

    But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

    My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

    Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
    falls drop by drop upon the heart,
    until, in our own despair,
    against our will,
    comes wisdom
    through the awful grace of God.

    What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

    So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

    We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

    But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

    And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

    Thank you very much.

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    Hijabs and Holy Week

    March 24, 2016

    Palm-fronds_Palm-SundayHoly Week 2016 started with the customary Christian observance of Palm Sunday, a brief moment that celebrates Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem before the terrible tragedy of his betrayal and crucifixion, all of which precedes the joy and mystery of the Resurrection celebrated on Easter Sunday.  For those of us who are Christian and Catholic, these rituals are embedded in our annual cycles and historical memories, patterning our understanding of the cycles of life, death, faith and hope.

    World events are constant reminders of the great struggle between the presence of evil that seeks to annihilate life, and the moral force of justice that is essential for hope and peace to flourish.  This is the story of Holy Week 2016, a season of remembrance and hope shattered by bombs in Brussels, the forces of evil destroying lives and perpetrating still more grief and tragedy through incomprehensible acts of terrorism.  Easter will come soon on the calendar, but the suffering and anguish in Europe and throughout the world will not dissipate so quickly.

    One of the great dangers of this moment in history arises in the fact that the perpetrators of terrorism use the mask of religion as their rationale for murder.  This cynical claim to faith as a reason for actions that betray all rational beliefs has had a devastating effect on Muslims, in particular, but it also undermines the Christian faith in the way it tempts some Christians to abandon their essential moral principles in favor of expressing hatred, fear and a large desire to oppress those who embrace Islam.  As much as we must root out the terrorists who betray Islam by using its name as a cover for homicide, we must also confront our Christian family when some among us advocate actions against Muslims that are clearly the antithesis of the Christian response to even the gravest of evils.

    Examples abound in the political world — presidential candidates who advocate banning Muslims from entry to the United States, or creating something akin to the Warsaw Ghetto by surrounding and locking down Muslim communities in this country on the theory that they harbor terrorists.  Shame on any presidential aspirant who stoke and exploit the fear that is rising among U.S. citizens for the sake of votes!

    But large political postures aside, we can see the consequences of fear and oppression of those who adhere to Muslim faith teachings in some very prosaic situations that are more local.  Yesterday, at a D.C. Public Library, a police officer allegedly harassed and forced a woman wearing a hijab to leave the library — a place that should be open to all people — while the woman was quietly reading.  Fortunately, library officials moved quickly to place the officer on administrative leave while they investigate the situation, and they also issued a statement assuring the public that the public library system is open to all.

    But the incident is an example of the prejudice and fear that are coursing through our local and national communities right now.  Terrorism wins when the consequences of evil acts lead to more hatred and oppression.

    History is replete with notorious examples of the bad use of faith principles as an excuse to slaughter, invade, oppress and otherwise betray the true meaning of faith.  Christians must not be so arrogant and clueless about Muslims; our own history is pretty blood-stained.

    Even as we grieve for the victims of terrorism — this week in Belgium, last year in Paris, and Istanbul and Syria and the ongoing horrors in places in Africa and Asia that the western press gloss over too often — we must not abandon the fundamental moral values of our many shared faith traditions.  Whether we profess Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or Hindu other other faiths, we must insist on protection of human rights and dignity for all people, which includes freedom of religion and expression.

    In this Holy Week, we extend our condolences to the victims of the Brussels terrorism, a ritual that is all too familiar.  Let’s use this week of renewal for the Christian faith to reaffirm our moral values in solidarity with people of all faiths, to protect and lift up the value of human life, to restore hope to communities beset with fear and violence, and to achieve that kind of justice in service to others that is essential for hope and peace to flourish.

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    Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
    Phone: 202.884.9050   Email:



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