Conversation on Racial Justice Report

Saturday, June 3, 2017 (Reunion Weekend) at Science Center, Wellesley College

Conversation facilitated by Jessica Strauss ‘77, Sherry Zitter ‘77, and Michele Tinsley Leonard ‘77

Summary notes by Jessica Strauss, July 25, 2017 

For more information, contact Phyllis Hayes Douglass (contact information in the alumnae directory)


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What started as a simple question a few months ago - shouldn't we talking about this? - has led to very expansive and passionate hope. We will propose to design and implement a 5-year initiative, engaging all members of the Wellesley community. We are inspired and encouraged by your recently articulated commitment to "excellence and equity" and we see this initiative as furthering that mission in powerful ways.

Despite much discussion, we were unable to complete our planning in time to list this conversation as an official Reunion event. However, Class leadership encouraged our little team of 3 to create an ad hoc meeting. So we copied off unassuming little fliers for each registration table and waited to see what would happen, with about 15-20 chairs in a remote classroom in the Science Center at about 2 p.m., Saturday, June 3, 2017. We were overwhelmed! 71 alumnae showed up, representing every reunion class from 1947-2012! We had breakout groups in the hallways, in the lounge and packed into the classroom. We hastily turned our agenda into mini-conversations so that everyone could participate, and compiled the generous amount of information and ideas that arose. (A distilled list follows.)

Our starting point was that in so many ways, we have not fulfilled the promise that some of us were beginning to see 40-50 years ago when we were the "vanguard" of integration at Wellesley. Those of us who have reached our 60s, and frankly lost too many classmates and friends, feel we have "no time to lose" to bring about the change we saw then was needed - but even in many of our own lives, have not realized. Meanwhile, younger alumnae contributed important and rich insights into college life in recent decades and how they are navigating a changing social landscape.

The following morning, Sunday, June 4, 2017, about 30 women, including some new additions, attended a follow-up "next steps" conversation at 9 a.m. in Shafer Hall dormitory living room. What emerged was a fairly broad vision - a recognition that with 35,000 alums at all levels of institutions, communities and families, nearly 3000 students, an esteemed faculty and staff, resources like the Wellesley Centers for Women - imagine what a difference we could make in overcoming the injustices of racism and discrimination that still oppress so many people in this country and limit decency and prosperity for all. The second meeting focused on the elements of a planning process that would generate a significant and potentially impactful Campaign. (Notes from the Sunday gathering follow.)

Next steps: Notes are being circulated to the participants in both meetings, to affirm their accuracy, invite corrections and amendments, where anything may have been omitted. A letter of proposal to Wellesley College President Dr. Paula Johnson is currently in drafting, which will then be circulated to those who indicated they’d like to serve in a leadership capacity as we move forward. The facilitation group is being expanded, with two new members who stepped forward . Currently, all members are still from Class of 1977, but at some point that will undoubtedly shift, as well. We have scheduled a meeting with Dr. Johnson in late August and hope to have sent her the letter in advance.

Wellesley Alumnae Campaign for Racial Justice:

Racism, Reconciliation and Healing.... for a Stronger Wellesley and a Better Country [working title –not decided]

Notes by Jessica Strauss ‘77

General themes and thoughts:

  • Wellesley should LEAD on this: be new, be bold – this should be our signature initiative

  • Balance breadth and depth of work – address loftier goals of

  • collective impact with issues of focus to sub-groups and personal relevance

  • Focus on civility and personal responsibility

  • Focus on policies and institutional change, justice

  • Watch out for polarizing wording – but avoid tone-policing (i.e. honest conversations about race cannot avoid discomfort)

    • Must address class - economics as driver of discrimination
      Yes, class is powerful, but underneath it all, race is the defining force of division in our country; many other forms of oppression are important, but at their root, they are versions of anti-blackness.

  • Cultural shifts through shared, inter-generational effort

  • Historical understanding

  • Our work should be about healing, reconciliation, progress

  • Consider reparations – College must undertake to explore its own role in racist past and how we have all benefitted from slavery, segregation, and subjugation

  • Balance: See humanity as unifier – and respect divergent identities

  • Focus on building friendships, personal relationships – promote relationships with those who are “other”

  • Focus on building a better future

  • Build alliances

  • Work locally, work out from “home” (college-town-Boston OR club-city-region...)

  • Wellesley is not immune to stereotyping – look inward to be sure we are preparing students to be part of “the change” we are generating through alumnae work

  • Does WC provide real opportunities for connection, mutual learning, challenging stereotypes, building alliances? Or do its “diversity programs” further divide and isolate races? (Black student reports being told “you’re the only Black person I know” but nothing to support these uncomfortable, growth relationships. Rather, students are encouraged to join affinity groups.)

  • True reconciliation (à la South Africa?) has never happened in this country – can Wellesley women generate such efforts –locally? nationally?

  • White women of good will need anti-racism training – to identify their own racist assumptions in non-blaming way – and to be able to intervene in personal, institutional and political situations

  • Understanding intersectionality with other “isms” and how anti-racism advances everyone’s liberation

Issues and project ideas:

  • Voting rights ––requires both national and local effort – fixing democracy is key to improving courts, laws, education system, etc.

  • Getting folks to run for office and training

  • Skill-building opportunities, e.g. how to build alliances

  • Anti-racism training

  • Work on changing campus: e.g. change Orientation and support offerings for new students

  • Figure out how alums can be involved in improving campus

  • Saving young Black lives

Possible Foci:

  • Wellesley campus – both to correct issues and to prepare students to join Alum initiative

  • Wellesley town race work, town-gown relationship (where racism shows up)

  • Local efforts around the country – through Clubs? Regional gatherings?

  • National focus - Policy, representation, leadership

Start with a significant Planning Process:

  • Wrestle from the beginning with tone-setting

-  Capture a sense of outrage – at what’s going on in this country

-  Honesty without hostility

  • A rigorous, comprehensive needs assessment is required

- focus groups – on and off-campus, through clubs?

- online surveys of students and alumnae, faculty and staff

- highlight minority voices as “expert”

- storytelling mode would be useful

- gather folks who are experienced in needs assessment–at Wellesley Centers for Women, College, among Alumnae connected to various

  • Capture history–factual aspects, previous reports and studies, past accounts , past efforts and initiatives

  • Use the evidence-based research on this subject–use and produce scholarly work

- Models of initiatives that work–don’t repeat well

- documented mistakes

- Use WCW and idea labs

  • Communication

- Start planning process with an article about the work in the News

- Use social networks–both in planning and as a vehicle for initiative strategies

- Opportunities to participate in different stages of planning should be widely available through online contact/portals, platforms

- Include ALL other years–not just the ones who were at this Reunion (2s and 7s)

  • Planning should link this work to existing campus initiatives, as we learn about them

- Faculty and staff should be actively engaged

  • It’s very important to everyone to know what Dr. Johnson would want to do... what would she enthusiastically lead?

- She is a “bodacious, talented, respected leader”– let’s listen to HER

-Be sensitive to her position as President for all of the College community

  • Learn from the model of the conversation about transgender issues–sensitive to many voices but not beholden to them all (“right” is not always about compromise)

  • Understand the Board of Trustees responsibility to the College’s reputation

- Align with the mission(s) of the College

  • Approach this like judo: not head-to-head, but rather moving together

  • Explore other connections during planning process:

- Women on Boards

- March for Women

- Other organizations around the country

- Other women’s colleges?, Other progressive colleges? – joint

Research? Action? Initiatives?

- Pay equity group

  • Yes, but define our goals first–then seek synergies–not to be

  • defined by what others have done

  • Seek funding–ask College to fund planning, then write grants for the Campaign

Words used to describe feelings after meeting #2:







Cautiously optimistic

Boldly optimistic





Persistence of the 38,000

Wow, overwhelmed




So big