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Bryn Mawr through an Intersectional Lens Web Event 2

Fdaniel's picture

A Bryn Mawr College (BMC) student according to the BMC website is “an intense intellectual; has a commitment to a purposeful vision of her life and a desire to contribute to the world.” When I first heard those words I was quite impressed. A woman who has a “desire to contribute to the world” sounds amazing to me being that women are marginalized. After hearing and seeing those words on the BMC website and hearing it from countless admissions officers I was compelled to come to this college. Their desire to empower women and create an intellectual environment was very important to me. However, has one ever wondered if this message has remained the same throughout the years? Has a Bryn Mawr student always been “an intense intellectual [who] has a commitment to a purposeful vision of her life and a desire to contribute to the world”? When looking at Bryn Mawr’s history we are able to see the evolution of who Bryn Mawr considers embodies these sentiments. In fact when Bryn Mawr first opened the only people who did were white, privileged Quaker women. It excluded women of color, women of different religions and more. As time progressed Bryn Mawr became more diverse and complex. Bryn Mawr realized that women who weren’t white, Quaker and privileged could embody those sentiments as well. They have slowly adopted this idea of intersectionallity; taking into consideration the many complexities of a woman who attends their institution. Instead of having their complexities considered barriers to getting a Bryn Mawr education they were ways in which Bryn Mawr could make the school community more diverse. With that in mind the world is constantly changing at a rapid pace and Bryn Mawr is continuing to make the appropriate reforms in order to foster a climate of social justice and maintain relevance.  Bryn Mawr has set up an ideal sentiment but in doing so has set up barriers that make it difficult to achieve. As years progressed Bryn Mawr slowly began to diminish those barriers and in result of doing so has created a diverse environment incorporating intersectionallity.

            BMC has remained true to its purpose in creating an “education to be provided to individuals that are excluded based on their gender” (Aybala50). However, taking a peak at how exactly BMC has become so diverse is compelling. When looking at BMC’s history we can slowly see one by one BMC breaking down these barriers and inviting intersectionallity. The many barriers were: location, race, class, age and gender. In 1892, BMC founded the first self-governance association (Aybala50). This is one of BMC’s proudest ideas and creations allowing its students to make decisions for their school environment. In doing so Bryn Mawr has allowed its students to address issues they feel are personally affecting them as opposed to faculty and staff. In 1889, International students began to attend Bryn Mawr (Aybala50).  In 1927, “colored students” were allowed to attend BMC however they were not allowed to live on campus. Enid Cook was the first African American to graduate BMC (Aybala50). However, Jessie Fauset was the First African American to attend BMC. She attended classes for a month and President Thomas raised money for Fauset to attend Cornell rather than have a black woman attend Bryn Mawr (Kammen).  Years later in 1948 the first residential African American attends Bryn Mawr: Gloria White. Only six African American students graduated Bryn Mawr by the year 1960 (Aybala50). Although it is slowly making progress, Bryn Mawr by 1960 expanded their idea of a BMC student and in doing so diminished barriers. In 1986 Bryn Mawr began to allow older women who weren’t of “traditional college student” age to attend Bryn Mawr (Aybala50). Their incorporation of women of color, international women and women from various ages are important aspects of Bryn Mawr’s progress. They are continuing to expand their definition of a BMC woman, taking into account outside forces such as age, class and race and not making those factors limiting.  From 1970 to 1978 BMC had begun to strengthen their relationship with Haverford College creating an even more complex and fruitful environment for BMC students (Aybala50). This relationship provided more academic opportunity and programs. BMC later accepted the Transgender Task Force in order to protect Trans students (Aybala50 ). In 1995 BMC began to practice “need-sensitive” admission, which means that admissions meets all demonstrated financial needs for “undocumented” and documented residents (First Year FAQs).  In school year 2006-2007 BMC had altered its admission policy. The SAT and ACT are no longer required for admission. Instead they look at either/or (Standardized Testing Requirements). By Bryn Mawr making standardized tests more flexible they have opened up the doors for students that come from areas where they can’t afford to take the exam or don’t have the appropriate resources to prepare.  BMC has also partnered with the Posse program for over 10 years now providing 10-12 students each year from Boston and Texas public schools to attend BMC (Bryn Mawr College and Posse Foundation).

            With years of continual progress, BMC today has totally redefined its idea of a successful BMC woman. No longer is it solely restricted to white rich Quaker women. BMC now has undocumented women, women of color, international women, women 24 and older, trans men and queer women successfully walking the hallways of BMC. Through BMC’s efforts to be more inclusive they have bettered the educational environment for its students and have offered an exceptional education to a variety of women. As they took away these boundaries (race, class, age, location) they were able to create a flourishing environment. In year 2013 Bryn Mawr no longer has a GPA cut off (First Year). As stated on the Bryn Mawr website “we have a holistic view of an applicant” (First Year). Currently, 52% of the student body consists of women of color and international students (Bryn Mawr Facts). Over 76% of BMC students are receiving some sort of aid (Bryn Mawr Facts). Keeping all of this in mind Bryn Mawr has become more inclusive. They have broadened their idea of a BMC woman and have adopted this idea of intersectionality. BMC couldn’t simply evaluate a student and not put into consideration all of the outside forces that affect her as a student.  They put into consideration her class, her environment (where she grew up), her race and her academics. By BMC viewing their students through an intersectional lens they are able to enrich the school community and cater to her every need. Thus, Bryn Mawr has progressed tremendously over the years and became more inclusive. Their desire to view students through an intersectional lens allows them to address the needs of all students and also enrich the school community. 

As Bryn Mawr has continued to be more and more inclusive, providing women of many different backgrounds a phenomenal education they have taken their intersectional lens to make accommodations to maintain diversity and prevent barriers within the school community.  The Pensby Center supports programs and activities that encourage diversity on campus (Pensby Center (former Office of Intercultural Affairs). They have taken diversity and viewed it through a broader lens not just limiting it to race and including ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation etc. They provide funds for affinity groups such as Bacaso and Sisterhood (Pensby Center (former Office of Intercultural Affairs)). They also provide every dorm building with a “diversity’s student” who makes sure that no one feels threatened based on their sex, gender, race and more. Students have the opportunity to intern or work at the Pensby Center to get leadership development training. With that training students organize cultural events and spread awareness about the importance of diversity (Pensby Center (former Office of Intercultural Affairs)). As seen on the BMC website the Pensby Center encourages students from the Tri-co community to help spread this message about the need for diversity on all campuses. The ultimate goal of the Pensby Center is to continue to provide Bryn Mawr with a diverse socially just environment.

In addition to the Pensby Center, the Posse program is a phenomenal partnership that has helped make the BMC environment more diverse.  The goal of the Posse program is to provide students with leadership skills and high academic standing to attend top-notch colleges that may have over looked them in the college application process (Bryn Mawr College and Posse Foundation). The Posse program takes pride in viewing its scholars holistically and BMC has adopted that same message. BMC began its journey with Posse in 2000 admitting students from Boston public high schools (Bryn Mawr College and Posse Foundation). BMC has expanded that partnership and now is accepting STEM Posse students and students from Houston Posse. STEM Posse is geared towards providing young women that want to pursue careers in STEM the correct resources to succeed (Bryn Mawr College and Posse Foundation).

 Furthermore, In the BMC gym there are two locker rooms: one for women only and a neutral locker room. This adjustment makes it easier for non-gender conforming students to use the locker rooms and feel safe.  All of our BMC clubs allow trans students to participate. In every dorm on campus there is a bathroom that can be used by anyone not just women.  In the beginning of every year there are workshops about gender and sexuality. The health center provides sexual health advice for all kinds of sex not just heterosexual sex. With all that being said, BMC has made progress towards being more inclusive and providing the right resources for all students to eliminate barriers. Due to Bryn Mawr paying more attention to intersectionallity they have created a more comforting environment for their students, providing the correct resources to uphold that message. Throughout the years Bryn Mawr has continued to add to their idea of a successful BMC student and limiting the number of barriers placed among them.

In all, over the course of history BMC has become a product of its time period. As time evolved so did BMC, including more students to their environment and allowing students with many complexities to attend college. Bryn Mawr has continued to view things through an intersectional lens allowing all students to be comfortable and breaking down barriers they created.  Their efforts are noticeable being that they incorporated the McBride program, Posse program, STEM Posse and created the Pensby Center, all proving that BMC is making strides for the better. As BMC continues to make changes for the betterment of the community they should put into consideration the transgender community. BMC is far from perfect and with time is slowly expanding its idea of a BMC woman and eliminating barriers. It took years before BMC considered African American women Mawtyrs and even longer for BMC to consider women over the age of 24 Mawtyrs. As Bryn Mawr continuously breaks down barriers they should consider breaking down another barrier for trans women. trans women identify with the oppression and outside forces that effect women on a daily basis. They live their lives through the lens of a woman. Bryn Mawr’s mission is to empower the female gender. In doing so they shouldn’t ignore certain kinds of women. They must broaden that view. The power of a woman’s college is one of a kind and shouldn’t be restricted from trans WOMEN. 

Works Citied:

Aybala50. "The Inside: History of Women at Bryn Mawr College." Weblog post.Serendip Studio. N.p., 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.

"Bryn Mawr College." Bryn Mawr Facts. N.p., 3 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2013

"Bryn Mawr College." First Year. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

"Bryn Mawr College." First Year FAQs. N.p., 31 July 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

"Bryn Mawr College." : Pensby Center (former Office of Intercultural Affairs). N.p., Sept. 2013. Web. 01 Nov. 2013. <>. 

"Bryn Mawr College and Posse Foundation Create First Posse Exclusively for Women Pursuing STEM Majors." Bryn Mawr College. Posse Foundation, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2013. <>.

 "Bryn Mawr College." Standardized Testing Requirements. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

Kammen, Carol. "Pride & Prejudice." Cornell Alumni Magazine. Cornell Alumni Association, 27 Aug. 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2013. <>.


nia.pike's picture

Power at Bryn Mawr

In comparision to my own, your paper addressed the administrative steps taken towards diversifying Bryn Mawr, while mine took a student body approach to equalizing this diversity. I wonder which body has more power, the administration or the student body? It is ultiamtely as you demonstrated historically, the administration who makes the decisions about student diveristy at Bryn Mawr, but at Bryn Mawr we hold self-governance highly. We participate through plenary and public SGA meetings. So can we, the student body overrule the administration through a form of a grass roots movement?

I found your paper quite interesting. I was not aware of amny of these historical details of the college that you mentioned. Through your historical setting, you were abole to finish with a current day issue about admiting transwomen to Bryn Mawr, which is an important issue. My paper addresses another important issue at present-day Bryn Mawr. I wonder how interviews with students on a variety of current day issues at Bryn Mawr would have impacted your paper, because I think there are several large issues at Bryn Mawr which need to be addressed, some by the administration and some by the student body. 

Anne Dalke's picture

Evolving Bryn Mawr

This event, like your last, is exploring the complexities of individual woman, and the resulting complexities of constructing feminist institutions that attend to such intersectionalities; your own understanding of what feminism looks like is certainly evolving. Both of your projects trace stories of increasing inclusiveness, and/but—seen through the light of Rosie the Riveter, whom you feature in the first—doesn’t the so-called inclusiveness of BMC, which you showcase in the second, seem rather limited? Only women of certain intellectual capacities….? with certain class ambitions…? need apply?

You’ve read a lot of material reporting on the evolving history of Bryn Mawr, relying particularly on Aybala50’s account of the continually revised definition of what “woman” means here, slowly expanding to include women from different countries, races, classes, religions, ages, abilities (or abilities to demonstrate those abilities)—and now even genders. You end with an appeal for the College not to”ignore certain kinds of women,” to be more assertive in seeking out and welcoming transwomen in particular.

It would interesting to have you trace the representation of such diversity in the “profiles” section of the College’s web page: see and say what you think. Are each of the categories you represent represented equally here? Does the College publically celebrate the same range you do?

The story you tell raises a couple of questions for me. I wonder first, how different it would sound if it were more grounded in personal accounts? How do different sorts of women experience Bryn Mawr? Does the College really “allow all students to be comfortable”? Do women of color feel, for example, that they are living in a community where “52% of the student body” looks like them, or is their felt experience somewhat different than that statistic might suggest? What is the class diversity of the international population? (These are intersectional questions…not all women of color are alike in other dimensions.) Does the title of “Pensby Center” signal that the College is working on challenging issues of diversity, or rather managing or accommodating them, keeping them from stirring up too much trouble? (Do you know the history or rationale for that title? Why did the Diversity Office become the Multicultural Center become the Intercultural Center become Pensby? What does that title communicate about what cultures matter here?)

Throughout your account, I found myself wondering why BMC had become more “intersectional” and “holistic” in its search for a wider variety of students. You say towards the end it’s because the College is “a product of its time period.” That’s very different than the vision of its founders, which was to challenge the established beliefs about women’s capacities. Are you saying that the College, which was so counter-cultural in its founding, is now just reflecting the culture in which it is embedded? Operating as a site of socialization and normalization, reinforcing the status quo, rather than a site explicitly calling for intervention, mobility and change?

Finally, you start (okay: you start, I end!) with the current definition of a Bryn Mawr woman: “an intense intellectual; has a commitment to a purposeful vision of her life and a desire to contribute to the world.” That’s an intensely individualistic definition of each of us; it’s separate, not communal, purposeful, not in solidarity with others, but working for them….


Your paper makes an interesting commentary, btw, on nia.pike’s study of sisterhood at BMC; you all should check out each others’ work, as well as well kwilkinson’s reflections on re-doing the wellness program here to accommodate more diversity…

Fdaniel's picture

More questions

I never really thought much about the various names the Pensby Center went through. I would guess that the school is trying to encompass diversity into one title and couldn't seem to do that being that diversity can be looked at in various ways. I think that it also goes back to Bryn Mawr being a product of its time. In the early 1900s racism was a huge problem that affected African Americans in all aspects of their lives including their education. It doesn’t seem bazaar that Bryn Mawr would adapt that kind of mind set but with time they realized that it wasn't the right thing to do because society thought so as well. That same thinking process is probably why they began to admit more and more women. I'm now interested in finding out how do women of color feel coming here. Do they feel comfortable? Do they feel like a minority? I would also like to know how McBride’s feel. Does their age affect their experience here? Are there resources geared toward helping them? You have definitely given me more to think about :).