Regardless of the situation, I think many (most?) of the students and alumnae felt the problem was handled poorly with utmost disrespect towards anyone who was not in a power-position. As for myself, what I felt was severe disenfranchisement from an institution that was not behaving in the way it had taught me to think and act, namely with deliberate and thoughtful actions that would ultimately serve the greater good. What I saw taking place instead was rash, one-sided and inconsiderate to practically everyone involved.
One example of this horribly constructed process is the fact that a plan was not established as to what to do with the Randolph-Macon alumnae association and the eventual need for a Randolph College alum association. So this year the administration* basically tried to yank us around again and shove another rash decision down our throats by telling us that there was no other option other than to combine the two alum associations. The language that was used in what I would have thought were supposed to be unbiased, informational letters to the alumnae about the ideas and possibilities on what to do about this issue, was in fact astoundingly coercive and basically amounted to emotional blackmail. An example of this language can be seen here:
If you are not a R-MWC alum, you might not appreciate the power behind using abrasive words like "walled off" as pulling from one the school's icons, the red brick wall that frames the front of our campus and is lovingly referred to in our school song. And this is just one example of many. On top of all this, the greatest injustice was that while apparently other solutions were proposed and researched, this was the only resolution that was presented to the body of the alumnae association.
I recently signed up to be class secretary for the class of 2000 and while I was vaguely aware of all these goings-on, I had largely ignored it because it was so emotionally overwhelming. But, I think I kind of lucked out that the class secretary orientation takes place at the Annual Meeting, which also is where the "Open Meeting" and subsequent vote about the alum associations were scheduled to take place. I don't know if I could have brought myself to go there, if I hadn't had another reason to be there.
The weekend started Friday evening with a talk by the new president, John Klein. I have not made up my mind about how I feel about him. I do have to give him kudos for braving such a rocky and uncertain terrain, not just financially speaking, but also the tumultuous adaption from single-sex to coed. *It is here that I want to explain my previous asterisk: one of the biggest things that has and is continuing to bother me about this whole thing is that I really, truly do not know WHO is in charge of much this decision-making process. Even after visiting the school and doing as much investigating as I could, I could not make out who or what group was pushing all this.
After President Klein's speech (which I missed most of and so will not comment on), they brought out a panel of current students, 4 ladies and one young man. I recognized the guy, Caleb, from recent mailings from the school - he is the epitome of "poster boy" - energetic, charming and talkative, he exudes "school spirit." I am sure he is a fine young person and I know he is not only academically prosperous, but also extremely well plugged-in to many other school activities. However, I was disappointed that he was the only male on the panel because, well, he views had to affected by the fact that he is gay. If you know me, you know that I have absolutely NOTHING against homosexuals and while I am not suggesting that he should have been replaced by a straight male on the panel, I would have appreciated the view from a straight male in addition.
Because if we're being honest, different people do have different experiences and views. (in this same light, I will also point out that all of the panel members were caucasian, which is obviously one-sided) I spoke to the panel organizer, Dean Sarah Swager, about this (in lightly veiled language) and she expressed that she would have loved to have had another male on the panel. Now, of course, these kids were hand-picked (by Dean Sawger, I assume) and so yet again I was left feeling a bit like I was at one of those resorts where you can stay for a free weekend if you sit and listen to their sales pitch about an "amazing investment opportunity" but nobody tells you in plain language that that's what is going on.
The next morning (very early for me at 8:30 am!) was the so-called "Open Session." I don't know who came up with that name for this event, but clearly it was someone with an extremely cynical sense of humor. The name led me to believe that it would an open, honest discussion between the alumnae and the Alumnae Association Board. I don't think I was alone in this misconception, as many of us were outraged to find that these were the rules:
Especially the part where it says that none of the board members would be speaking - that also meant that they were NOT answering any of our questions - of which many were posed. So basically we were left with the "opportunity" to voice our thoughts and ask what became, in effect, rhetorical questions. There were those who addressed the board with their frustrations at the way this whole debacle has been handled (myself included) which I will call the "Opposers" and then there were those who were for the resolution - we'll call them "Proponents" and were actually, in effect, addressing the Opposers most of the time.
The gist was this: the Opposers expressed their deep concerns for how we felt blind-sided (again) by how quickly and harshly this was all coming about. Many of the Opposers just wanted some simple questions answered, like how did this "resolution" that had been voted down before become not only re-instated but also as the only option? The Proponents on the other hand seemed to have a main platform of "let's just get this over with." Some of the Opposers let their emotions get a little carried away, which I must say was a bit annoying because it wasn't achieving anything to get up and grandstand. Some of the Proponents were accusing Opposers of being mean and trying to screw the RC students out of a decent alum association, which I felt was not fair especially considering that most of the Opposers kept saying "we're not even necessarily against the resolution itself but we are against the way this process has been handled."
Passionate feelings ran across all demographic groups; there were outspoken women from all general age ranges and positions. However, one thing I noticed was that it seemed that most of the Opposers were from more recent graduating classes and most of the Proponents were from the older classes, although it was not the case strictly across the board. Based on the arguments I heard, it would be my guess that the younger folks (I would say from classes from the mid-60s on to '08) probably felt a closer bond to the college as it is now (er, before going coed), whereas the women from '51 to the early-70s had already felt a sense of loss because the college had already changed so much since then (I spoke with women who had been there when they dropped greek life, still ate sit-down served dinners on college china while wearing dresses and gloves and no one was openly gay).
Many of the older ladies kept insisting that with age/time these thing wouldn't be so important to me and that everything changes anyway, so might as well suck it up and move on. Now, of course here is where we also run into simply different eras and experiences between the age groups. These older ladies came from a time where women still had a certain place in society, and one of them was at a safe, small, quaint women's college. I was actually a bit shocked to note this difference in our college experiences. I guess I had always assumed that R-MWC had always been a place where we were encouraged to push the envelope, ask questions and make ourselves heard. But these women, I think, were equally appalled to see that we were so vocal and so open with our emotions. They have turn-of-the-century stoicism in their blood and we have bra-burning anger in ours.
This trend continued into the actual Annual Meeting and vote itself.
Some interesting points that were brought up and other observations:
*Apparently the Alumnae Association was an independent organization for many years, so in theory it is do-able as long as the alumnae keep sending money to it.
*The Alumnae Association holds the belief that ultimately the Association is here to benefit the college and not, as many others would believe, the alumnae.
*As I understand it, you cannot currently send money to the Alumnae Association directly earmarked for only their use. All the money goes to the college and then the college doles out the funds as they see fit.
*There are some people who liked the resolution because they want to make sure our association doesn't "die out"
*There are some people who liked the resolution because they felt it was their duty to provide an established association to the RC students
*Current RC students were not allowed to voice their opinion or vote on the resolution, despite quite a bit of debate on the matter and even a passed vote from last year's Annual Meeting that said they would be allowed in the meeting (based on the existing college rules that state any student who has completed at least one successful semester is counted as an alum). This vote/decision was overturned, as best as I can tell, by veto by the Alumnae Association President, Emily Gill Mills '79. She claimed