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"Seeing through Different Eyes": A Series of Conversations, Spring 2008

"Seeing Through Different Eyes"
Spring 2008 Series

Following a Fall Semester Series on Risk-Taking, the Social Science Center and the Center for Science in Society at Bryn Mawr College are co-sponsoring a series of conversations in spring 2008 called "Seeing Through Different Eyes." Every other Tuesday from 1-2, in Dalton 212E, several faculty and staff members will talk about the various dimensions opened up for them by viewing the world, its problems (and some of its solutions?) through a different set of lenses. Bring your lunch and come join the discussion; drinks and dessert provided.

1/29 Mike Hill (Director of Public Safety and Transportation)
and David Ross (Economics),
Balancing Safety and Freedom

2/12 Amanda Root (Empowering Learners Partnership)
and Steve Green (Public Safety and Transportation)

Do you believe the hype?

2/19 Jerry Berenson (Chief Administrative Officer) and
Kim Cassidy (Provost),
When the Vision is Administrative

3/4 Betsy Reese (Map Curator and GIS Coordinator)
and Darla Attardi (Coordinator of Staff Education)

Re-mapping The Space and Re-envisioning the Place that is Bryn Mawr

3/18 Janet Scannell and Elliott Shore (Information Services),
Re-envisioning Bryn Mawr's Technology for the 21st Century

4/1 Laura Blankenship and Scott Silverman (Information Services)
The Tightrope of Faculty Support: Working for/against/with/as Academics

4/15 Diane Craw (Director of Operations, GSSWSR) &
Elizabeth McCormack (Chair of the General Faculty)
Staff and Faculty Partnerships for Change: Stories from the Trenches
--Searching for a New President: Lessons Learned and
Strategies for Restructuring Graduate Education at Bryn Mawr


Darla Attardi (Coordinator of Staff Education)& Anne Dalke (English)
Lessons Learned from a Year of Risk-Taking: Where Might We Go From Here?


"where we went from here" was into a
Fall 2008 working group on "choices and constraints..."


Anne Dalke's picture

Moving Forward, In Image and Action

We held the last of our sessions on “seeing with different eyes” on April 29th, with the intention of reviewing what we have done over the past two semesters, and thinking together about where we might go from here, how we might build on what we’ve done to move forward.

Anne opened the discussion by asking participants to name our “image for Bryn Mawr”: What picture comes to mind when we think of the College? What scene do we see? What metaphor best describes our sense of who we are, what we are doing?
• chastity belt
• country club
• dinner party
• magician’s “poof!”
• closed spaces
• airport
• convergence of streams in a life-giving river
• our math department
• a rock band (Rolling Stones? R.E.M? Sex Pistols?
• “Besieged”
• amoeba
• a symphony by Charles Ives (two bands, each making beautiful music, converge; the result is cacophony)
• old buildings transformed into new uses (the Owl Bookshop→ Admissions; the old gym-->Campus Center
• a quarry, with schist
• bubbles
• television show (E.R.? Friends?)
• flock of starlings.

Darla then asked the group to look through the archive listing all the conversations we’ve had as a group since last September, jogging our memories and filling in the gaps. What did we see? What has been the point of our discussions? What have you carried forward? What did we remember as important? What was missing? What questions were raised that still linger? What traces are left?

• vulnerability – in risk taking and in sharing perspectives
• sorrow that participation was intermittent, reduced
• problems with scheduling
• startled, during a conversation about our roles, to hear a faculty member say he felt “safe in a pyramid,” didn’t want to be “in a flock,” always having to be responsive to the changes around him
• “preaching to the choir”
• who are we? how do we function? how can we function better?
• how we are not communicating across cultures
• how self-revelatory some of the sessions were; how courageous to speak
• being “blown away” by others’ willingness to be vulnerable, to take risks
• lack of continuity in the sessions
• why did fewer faculty attend this semester?
• how can we link this community to faculty agendas?
• how can we do better P.R.?
• shall we “add sex” (in this context: focus on teaching or research)?
• who presents?
• who is at risk?
• most shocking: that faculty are not curious about staff’s experiences here
• the theme behind all the conversations: fear.

Anne then asked what structures we need to put into place to address these needs. Where else do the conversations need to go? What actions might follow from them? Do we want some on-going version of this group, or something else? What form(s) should it take?

• brown bags focused on topics (“Education and the Internet,” etc.)
• accountability groups
• outside speakers, to kick off a series (ex: Karen Stephenson)
• introducing readings/a book (on international globalization?)
• splitting, if we get too big
• being change agents for the larger community
• being mindful of “good behavior” outside this room
• using the Concept Plan for Bryn Mawr to reinvision this place:
where are the intersections? where are the risks?
• informing other discussions
• being task-focused, having a project

Darla closed the session by asking us to go ‘round once more, offering up our images and metaphors for this thing-to-come, the morphed version of this group. These metaphors far more “porous,” much less “closed” than our first set:

• an “unconference” (people gathered without a pre-set agenda, and then connect with one another based on shared interests)
• a virus (inserting itself elsewhere, to reach a tipping point)
• a GIS map (picking up layers and adding to them)
• intersecting paths
• flocking birds and pyramids
• magnetism (a positive charge, attractiveness)
• trekking on the Himalayas.
Anne Dalke's picture

Naming the elephant

Diane Craw opened our conversation this week by describing the lessons she learned as the staff representative on the presidential search committee. As the single representative of the largest permanent constituency on campus, she at first felt isolated; because of the committee's confidentiality agreement, she could not talk with any of the staff members she was representing. She had high praise for the way in which the chair of the committee "didn't let people hide," but made sure that every member contributed. In contrast, Diane was asked no questions by the candidates themselves. The process worked very well, overall, because all the members of the committee could see the outline of clear goals and expectations up front, and then were flexible in adjusting and asking for input.

Liz McCormack explained that, along w/ one staff representative, there were 7 trustees, 4 faculty members, two students and a chair on this committee. Drawing on the arguments of a book called The Fifth Discipline, which looks at organizations as learning communities that can "generate their own evolution," she said that this group worked together up front to be flexible and responsive. Their initial task, writing a description of the position, was a clarifying, collective digestion of a wide range of imput, and served as a perpetual reminder of their organizing principles and collective understanding. The group also came to know one another during informal meals together, which helped them break down pre-conceptions and see beyond official roles and tiles; they made a commitment, too, to show up to all of the meetings.

Liz offered two examples of this responsiveness. The first one had to do with community frustration about the infrequency of communication from the committee; they were strongly criticized, first by a student reporter and then @ a faculty meeting, for not making the selection process more transparent. As a result, they needed to adjust their assumptions about how effective and satisfying their reports were to the campus as a whole. The second example of how well the group functioned occurred when one member found herself struggling with her constituency; the committee acknowledged that this was a problem for them all, so they all attended an extra meeting with that constituency.

Diane and Liz then asked the group to speak about their own experiences in times of change: what are the sources of anxiety or fear, and what can contribute to a shared sense of trust? It was suggested that "if there is an elephant around the table, it should be named": perhaps a conversation that appears to be about one thing--for example, a question about procedure--is really about another high level emotion that is not being acknowledged; the community member might not even be aware of the real source of her emotion. How can we work with such a dynamic?

There is of course always the challenge of communication--of information that is "put out there, but not seen." There was some debate over whether laying out "principles and practices" (with regard to the revision of the graduate program, for instance), and then asking individual programs to meet those goals, is "landing well." It was noted that these principles have not been circulated to staff, which certainly has contributed to fear, mistrust and rumor. Who is responsible for making such communications?

It is the nature of change that we will fear it (although we learned a few weeks ago that IT people assume change in a way that librarians--for instance--may not); but must mistrust be part of the process? How can we assure that everyone shares expectations about a good, collective vision? How can we get folks to participate early in the process, when there is time for real discussion to take place? What about the problem of raised expectations: if someone is invited to participate, they expect that their concerns will be addressed, and this is not always the case.

But is it really effective to define outcomes and then work backwards? It was asked whether having "shared goals and a flexible process of meeting them" really addresses the diversity of aims in this community. There is in all educational settings a tension between structure and freedom, between autonomy and integration, between mainstream voices and those of the "outsider society." Othering always occurs; might it be that we do not--and cannot--agree on a mission?

Can we nonetheless learn to be better engaged? Might we do so, if we could count on influencing--if not determining--the outcome of a process? There is a theory that all organizations need people with overlapping skills. But sometimes we do not have a common--or even an overlapping--language for our many different worlds. And then there is the "human nature side": how can we help one another set aside ego, and learn some humility? It was suggested that family gatherings often work best when there is "a guest at the table," who calls out our better behavior!

We stopped with many ideas still unexpressed. We also ran out of time before we were able to take on the task Diane and Liz had hoped to facilitate: constructing a memo to the leadership on campus. What form might such a memo take?

And what further steps might we take--and tasks might we take on--as we end this year's worth of conversations about taking risk from a variety of different positions?

Laura's picture

It was a great conversation

It was a great conversation and I thought everyone made some interesting points. One thing I was thinking afterwards though was that maybe we were preaching to the choir. I think everyone in the room at the time is perfectly willing to figure out how to break down barriers that might be getting in the way of David's vision of a network of people behind him as he goes about his work. I think there are other people within the institution who need to be participating in this conversation and hearing this message. How we get those people involved is another question.

I'd also like to suggest that all of us should have that feeling, regardless of what role we play. I'd like to feel, for example, that the faculty and others are behind me and supportive of what I do as well. Sometimes I might be one of the people in David's crew, but I'd like to feel that at times, David might be in my crew. What I might be arguing for is a kind of mutual support that means people need to be more fluid about their perceptions of a hierarchy. Maybe we're back to the pyramid vs. flock concepts from the fall. At any rate, I hope the conversations continue.

Anne Dalke's picture

more on different cultures

Scott and Laura initiated our conversation about the "tightope of faculty support" today by asking us to write answers to four questions:

  • What aspects of the college are "academic"?
  • What roles do faculty and staff each play in advancing the academic mission of the college?
  • How can faculty and staff work together to help the college face academic challenges of the 21st century?
  • What barriers might exist for this work and how can we remove them?

The discussion which followed was wide-ranging:

  • Most spaces on campus "qualify"; most are "crucial"; Information Servies is "foundational" to the academic mission of the College
  • what do we mean by "academic"? is that distinct from "adminstrative"? (=the "back of the house"?)
  • can we presume that everyone here "cares about learning"? that we could all make more money elsewhere, but stay because of our commitment to education?
  • from a student's point of view, not just what happens in the classrom, but "everything is educational"
  • this is about acquiring life-long learning skills
  • is the "merely academic" about conversations that "don't really matter," that "don't have consequences"?
  • aren't we all "information architects"?
  • isn't the educational mission founded and grounded on services provided by staff?
  • we have to acknowledge reality: there are tiers in this (as in all) institutions; there are also loyalties to departments and fields that trump any commitment to the College
  • a particular challenge for staff is offering support to faculty, who do not want to be taught
  • what are the assumptions each of us works under?
  • within the faculty realm, there is a hierarchy of primary courses (in the major and in one's speciality) and then there are "service" courses (aimed at non-majors)
  • what is the hierarchy connoted by "Information Services"?
  • according to Frederick Rudolph's 1990 history of The American College and University, faculty were once hired "in a service mode" (to teach and be moral models); then they organized/got themselves some faculty governance, and so created a status for themselves as researchers/developers of knowledge/entrepreneurs/independent contractors
  • they came to understand themselves as "housed in the institution," but "doing their own research"
  • this is the dominant model for Research-1 institutions: faculty who see themselves as independent workers contracted with the institution
  • is this contrast in cultures problematic? i.e. staff see themselves in partnership roles with faculty, who see themselves as entrepreneurs?
  • how far can the staff go in creating value for itself? (what happens when the word "union" is mentioned on campus?)
  • is there a limit to the "entrepreneurial" quality of faculty? (for ex: the current plan to end the graduate program in Russian second language learning?)
  • compare the way a state school thinks about its students as "customers" and its mission to serve the state (or its underrepresented minorities)
  • is Bryn Mawr student-centered? faculty-centered? (no one suggested that it is staff-centered....)
  • what are we offering for $40,000/year? an engaged environment where each individual student matters?
  • can we imagine an environment in which all Bryn Mawr is responsible for your learning (in which a class senses itself as being supported by everyone on campus)?
  • staff often feel as though they are "left guessing" @ what faculty need and want: it does not "feel like a collaborative process"
  • is this a cultural issue? a communication issue?
  • is this a contradiction of cultures? of entrepreneurs vs. a community that is trying to support them in the work that they do?
  • is such tension tenable long-term?
  • we are neither an R-1 institution or a teaching college; what niche do we fill?
  • we are but one of a few "hybrids," trying to combine teaching with producing new knowlege
  • can we create a "culture of respect" in the midst of this "culture of "anxiety," where so many faculty feel that we are "living on the edge" as we trying to produce new knowledge? a
  • wrapped up in our own microcosms, can we seek out opportunities to meet others?
  • can we make more opportunities for sharing our "back stories," about where we come from, who we are, and why we are here?
  • how can we build on this series to change BMC's culture?
Anonymous's picture

different information skills and strengths

Combining the Library with the Computing Department has been a disaster,
particularly for the people who work in the Computing department. This is
not a bad reflection on the librarians or on our wonderful computing
staff, it is merely that the two departments have very different
"information" skills and strengths. While librarians are excellent at
assisting professors and students in researching data bases, they are not
excellent (and there is no reason why they should be) in technological
areas such as software programs, website development, desktop support and
hardware maintenance, etc. Computing should be its own department as it
was before everything from telephones, multimedia in the classrooms, our
teaching collection, and our computing center were all connected.

Ann Dixon's picture

is this comment really about different cultures?

This comment raises the difference in skill sets between librarians and computing staff as the main issue why a merger between the organizations could not be successful. New skills can be, and even have to be, learned throughout library and computing careers - I doubt that different skill sets is a relevant difference here. There are significant cultural differences between these departments everywhere, however -- it seems like it is much harder and takes more time to change a culture (attitudes, behaviors, relationships, communication) than the nuts and bolts of particular information skills. 


Scott Silverman's picture

Different Eyes but Undifferentiating Field of Vision

Dear Anonymous,

I respect you, I am certain I do and would if you'd name yourself, but this diatribe tells me nothing useful as a member of IS other than I am a bad person for being a librarian who loves working with colleagues schooled in "computing." I wish you'd at least provide a single example of a great, amazing computing service that existed in September 2001, the month the College announced the merger, that the merger managed to turn into a "disaster."

Janet Scannell's picture

half a conversation

Providing computing support is difficult in every environment under a variety of leadership/reporting models -- according to the conversations I've had with my peers for the past 7 years at an annual conference of 70 IT directors at liberal arts colleges.

Even so, I would welcome talking with "anonymous" about his/her observations. A quick remark is easy -- doing something about it is harder but more productive.

I'm ready...
Janet Scannell

Anne Dalke's picture

Re-envisioning Technology @ BMC for the 21st Century

Six years ago, impelled by the "pragmatic need to move forward with technology with some economy of scale," seven Bryn Mawr programs were merged into a single large department. What were the biggest barriers to creating a unified information systems group out of the separated, independent autonomies that were libraries, core computing, administrative computing, language lab, visual resources, telephone and multimedia, which each had a separate budget and separate reporting structure?

Having different points of view "adds value"--it can lead to "plugging more holes and picking up more ideas"--but it also means managing the

  • different backgrounds of (and accordingly, different languages used by) librarians and technological people
  • different styles of interacting with people, and different orientations toward decision-making ("analytic drivers" see "customer service" very differently, for example, than do "amiable expressive" types)
  • different approaches to change and authority (IT people, who often come from non-educational environments, are more used to change--the life cycle of an operating system is less than four years--and to authoritarian decision-making; both may be uncomfortable for librarians. This can cause difficulties when "vision-setting": how much consensus does there need to be? is there no "single wring-able neck"?)

Bryn Mawr is an institution that has long been change-averse; structural innovation has occurred here very seldom; this meant that there were problems of mistrust as the re-organization went forward. Some members of the community feared that the creation of centralized nodes might mean a loss of autonomy. But the claim was made that--because of all the interconnections among us--"it is not possible to have local autonomy without centralization." This echoes the observation made during our October discussion that "there is freedom in being part of a pyramid," where individuals can "rely on the institution to stay in shape," rather than--for instance--participating in a "flock, where one has the burden of being constantly aware."

Discussion turned to questions of translation: How can people who use different languages learn to communicate effectively with one another? We need to recognize that translation is needed, before we can actually perform the act of "carrying over" an idea. We also looked at accurate language use; how evocative is the title of "Information Services," of a relationship that is "less than that of a colleague and a professional, more of someone who serves someone else"? Does it suggest "being bound to serve"?

We also talked about the structure of Information Services: first level managers attend to the needs of their staff; third level managers speak to the users in the community; inbetween are second level managers who need to communicate between staff and users. "But everyone is, in some sense, a middle manager": every one is "in the middle," needing to balance between protecting their clients and getting work done.

Other questions & observations that arose:
* How much control do users have, as builders of the architectural systems they use?
* How much responsibility must autonomous users assume? (The "tech support approach"--that "we take no responsibility for your autonomous decisions" -- doesn't work for academics.)
* How oxymoronic is it to be a historian of technology?
* Isn't information storage and retrieval what a library does?
* "Exceptions need to be exceptional."
* There are "deep religious divisions" within the two main groups we've discussed: librarians and IT folks (think: pc vs. mac, etc).

Anne Dalke's picture

Re-envisioning our Space

We began this week's discussion by describing the various ways "we locate Bryn Mawr": as a city on the hill, near the train station, by memory, in a suburb near Philadelphia, in an enclave outside the city, in relation to our homes and the "other campus," in comparison to the status of other small liberal arts colleges in the country, in a great public school district, in an area with a boring history (and a dull present?), "at the end of the sidewalk" (it's "a deathtrap for pedestrians"!). Then we compared our own descriptions with those locations provided on the internet by services such as AAA: "mid-Atlantic states," "middle states," and the "northeast section" of the country. It was noted that we are an "uncompassed campus"; that is, none of the buildings are orientated towards the directional markers of north, south, east or west.

Zeroing in, we were then asked what associations we had for four specific buildings on campus: Taylor, Ward, Guild and Wyndham. These buildings "cover the campus," geographically, and represent the range of services offered here--administration, facilities, computer access and hospitality. Our associations evoked many other dimensions of campus life, including some of the tensions between "being seen from the outside, and how it feels on the inside." Looking @ "how we felt" when we entered each building evoked the full spectrum of power and hierarchy that operates on this campus. Our discomfort with being served in one location, compared with our comfort in asking for service in another, revealed something about how each of us thinks we "know our place" on campus. When can we ask others for their expertise, and when do we hesitate to do so, thinking that we should be able to handle the problem ourselves?

Where do we feel most uncomfortable? In which of these buildings do we ask ourselves, "what do I do next?" In which of them has "the building been replaced by relationships"? When "what goes on in the building is working," that work may actually be invisible to us. But sometimes our assigned roles get blurred. This may be a good thing, part of a healthy re-envisioning of ourselves as a community. But then who is really the administration here? Who is serving whom? When are we paying, in real costs or a social price, for that service? What might it mean to be a facilitator who can bring different sorts of people together in these spaces?

How much does our origin determine how we see the campus? Do we assume that others see it the way we do, or do we assume that we all come from different worlds? Our accents are another way we locate one another, not just geographically, but in terms of race and class; academics often distinguish themselves by the "lack of accent." How might we re-draw the "conceptual maps" each of us has of the campus?

The conversation concluded with a cool visual representation of the space where we were meeting, Dalton 212, seen from a variety of increasingly-distant levels: in the building, on campus, in the township, in the state, in the region, in the country, on the globe, in the universe. How might we use these aides to re-envision this space, to recreate the campus as one where we might all be comfortable, and make others comfortable as well?

Anne Dalke's picture

The rock band that is Bryn Mawr

Among college administrators, it is often assumed that (because they are subject to review) "you can expect staff members to do what they are told," while (because they have tenure) "you cannot tell faculty members to do anything." Jerry and Kim have been experimenting with a different presumption: that things work better when faculty and staff are treated the same, with everyone included in the decision-making processes that most affect them. In working together to reach institutional goals, the presumed differences among us, in terms of rank and role, should not matter. Decision-making should be as transparent as possible (although that word has been overused), and Bryn Mawr's long habit of "conflict avoidance" can be countered, as reasonable people are helped to see broader views, to take positions "beyond their own planet."

The group spent some time talking about both our perceptions of and blindnesses to the gradations among us. The often-quoted quip that "if the college were a rock band, the faculty would be the lead singers, and the rest of us the roadies," blurs many of the class and status issues which separate us from one another. Adjuncts, for instance, might be thought of as long term members of the band, who never get to take the lead. Staff are often unaware of the status distinctions which mean so much among faculty members; they may be disturbed to know how much faculty can be intimidated by the structure within which they work. Conversely, faculty may not be aware of the division of staff into the categories of service/craft, clerical/technical, and academic/professional. They also might not be aware that, because perceived status means more than money, how highly sought is the move from hourly pay to a salaried position. Is freedom of choice and movement one index to the hierarchical distinctions among us?

We reflected about the ways in which such divisions among us "get in the way of good education." Can we find a mode of education in which we are all subjects? Learning to see past one another's roles--to "value each others as people, not as positions"--might facilitate the education of us all. Students might learn, for instance, not to cede to faculty members judgments about the quality of their work. The anecdote was told about a ropes exercise, in which the people who were blindfolded "had the best answers, but were not heard"; we often devalue the ideas of people who have a lower status in the hierarchy. We might all work towards learning to recognize all the different kinds of knowledge that is shared among us, although to do so would mean a deep challenge to Bryn Mawr's sense of itself.

Discussion then turned to ways of including staff members in decision making. It can be empowering to give imput into the process, to have a sense that your opinions are being valued, although doing so might also raise expectations of inclusion that can not be met institutionally. We closed by imagining ways in which, after tenure, faculty members might be encouraged to be "increasingly invested in Bryn Mawr"; getting to know members of the staff might be one step in that direction.

We will meet again in two weeks, when Betsy Reese and Darla Attardi will lead further discussion about "Re-mapping The Space & Re-envisioning the Place that is Bryn Mawr."

Amanda's picture


I appreciate Anne's thoughtful re-cap of Tuesday's discussion. I didn't feel like the conversation had an end. It didn't feel like a clean, satisfying break. I didn't feel like anything was finished or that anything of great significance had been achieved. I kept wondering why do i feel this way? What was meant to be achieved? Did something go terribly wrong? Over and over I played the discussion in my head trying to tease out what about it bothered me so much. I saw Anne on Friday. She stated that she was pleased with the conversation. It was funny. My own anxiety was satiated by her comment. I then thought, there is the rub. As students we are expected to perform a certain way and we are always trying to get "it" right. I believe faculty feel this too to a certain extent. I realized that Anne's comment made me feel like I got something "right" and that somehow getting noticed (by a member of the faculty no less) confirmed that the discussion had gone well. What a bunch of CRAP! It was then that I realized I had fallen into a trap. Instead of continuing to wrestle with my own feelings of anxiety about how the conversation went as soon as I received confirmation that it went well I let go of my own personal thoughts and feelings on it. I came to this page to see what Anne had written about the conversation as if whatever she had to say was more relevant or "worth" more than my own take. I fell into playing the role of a novice student eager to please a beloved faculty member. I feel like getting "positive" feedback from faculty is in one sense very satisfying, at the same time I wonder how much of my response to how the discussion went has been mediated by my role as student eager to please the faculty. Thus, I feel that I in responding this way have colluded in the "hype" that I, on most days, am eager to challenge and push up against. This "hype" I refer to is what most of us live and work in everyday-Bryn Mawr College. I feel wrapped up in an institution that , for as amazing and resourced as it is, tends to leave out something out of its every day interactions--personal connection. Sure we all have it (i hope) on some level within relationships we make/keep on campus, but i think for many its really scary to "bare all." I'm not saying I know what the answer is to this disconnect among the peoples of BMC , though I do think if we could allow ourselves to recongnize, step out of, fight, change etc. the HYPE we would be happier, more connected people. One last thought, some of you know that prior to attending BMC I was the Director of an organization (there's some hype for ya =). I entered that position at the age of 19 without a clue about how an organization runs or even what constituted an organization. I learned quickly that people have the power to create how an organization works and what is valued within an organization. Thus, I feel that we have the power to create an institutional environment where breaking down the "hype" and getting down into the humanity each of us holds could be normative. At the same time I realize how safe we are in this "hype" and to change it poses a threat to how we and others see ourselves. Does anyone really want to be known for who they are and does anyone actually know who they are? Eh...

Anne Dalke's picture

Do we believe the hype?

Steve and Amanda explained that this week's discussion was a follow-up from one held last December, which had raised questions about the mission of Bryn Mawr, as a place that is training "the elite." What might the implications of such a mission be, for those of us living and working here? Do we believe the "hype" we create?

Our conversation began with an initial series of introductions ("what we do"), followed by a second, more uncomfortable, round in which we gave our job titles, and felt ourselves resisting some of the hierarchies put into play by the specific, technical category each of us occupies.

The introductions were followed by a series of questions:

  • What do we think of ourselves?
  • How do we present ourselves to others in ways that mask part of who we are?
  • How are we subject to the assumptions people make when they learn what we do, hear us speak and see us perform in institutionally constructed roles?
  • Do people see us as we think they do?
  • Do institutionally constructed roles enforce how we se each other as campus "community members? How might these roles impact how we treat each other?
  • Why do we hide different parts of ourselves from the community?
  • What does or would it mean to uphold the "hype" we create?

In the wide-ranging discussion which ensued, we spoke of how "devious" these questions seemed (and how "betrayed" by having to answer them!). We acknowledged differences between how we see ourselves in isolation, and in relationship with others. We recognized that our answers to such questions might vary, depending on who we are with.

Some of us find these questions hard to answer in any context, seldom thinking of ourselves "outside ourselves," "trying never to think about it," finding it "liberating not to be introspective," wanting to avoid the "extended adolescent identity crisis" that involves "lots of presentation differences between the "inside" and the "outside" self.

Some of us are "very 'out,' constantly 'on'" in our jobs; others' roles "only sometimes overlap with who we are"; some of us wear "multicolored hats"; others are more like an "octopus," with many different facets making up who we are.

Why do we not have the "same honest communication with all our brothers and sisters on the planet?" Why can we not see each other "the way we are"? Why do we want others to see us differently than how we see ourselves? Why do we build partitions between our professional capacities and our personal selves?

Some of this has to do with efficiency, but there are also important matters of trust involved. We're all insecure, and we all want to be loved: that's where the performing comes in. Sometimes it involves "making a pitch for yourself," trying to form a connection. Or is it the reverse? a professional line we don't want to cross: being friendly, but not sharing too much information? We have to "weigh how much to show." Is this about protecting other people? Or is it about overpowering them? How do we carry ourselves around others? With an air of snobbery, of needing to be noticed? Sometimes the mask we wear "pretends it is not there": it is a mask that "performs authenticity and closeness."

How can we be ethically responsible in this complex college environment, which is "home for some, work for others"? We are all students, "learning about Bryn Mawr in the daytime." When you are connected to a place for a long time, you become a snowball: "everything gets attached." But "doing the right thing is not a part time thing."

Darla Attardi's picture

Telling lies

Your final question resonates with me, Anne. Some would argue that we tell ourselves -- and each other -- lies every day in order to make life more bearable. We say we are fine when we are sometimes anything but, we claim convictions we are deep down unsure of, etc. On one level, I agree that perhaps we should try to avoid this kind of lying. However, I think of being that anxious parent and having a dean tell me that no, she cannot keep my daughter safe, and for that matter, she cannot assure me that Bryn Mawr is a safe place apart from its surrounding towns and city. As that parent, I imagine I would realize the truth in the dean's statement, but would I feel any better about my daughter going to school here?

Maybe a further question is whether or not it is our role to make parents feel good about their kids being here. I have to say that yes, it is -- we need their support, and we know that. If we went around telling people that our students are not protected here, wouldn't they look for other schools that make the opposite (false) claim?

Just some thoughts.

Anne Dalke's picture

Assuring Access in the City on the Hill

Last Tuesday afternoon, David and Mike asked the group of us who had gathered to "think, pair and share" what we might be feeling (and what factors might lead to those emotions) if we were
  • an assistant dean getting a phone call from a parent, anxious to know how the College would cope with or prevent a Virginia-Tech like incident;
  • an instructor rushing to class who can't get into the classroom because the door is locked or our OneCard won't give us access;
  • a public safety officer learning that during our shift last night five computers were stolen from the public lab;
  • a student who just used our OneCard to enter a dorm, when another person our age, whom we don't recognize, follows us in;
  • the president of a prestigous New England college, receiving an e-mail from an irate faculty member complaining about the overly restrictive policies of the security department, on the same day we get a report on the cost of replacing books and computers lost to theft in the fall semester.

Discussion afterwards highlighted the degree to which each of us gets caught up in our own immediate concerns, and so are unable to see the larger picture and other needs; the degree to which we tend to focus on the lowest (but scariest) probabilities; the degree to which we do not feel in control (should one assure the parent that we have policies in place to keep her child safe? lie and so violate our own sense that one cannot make that assurance?). Each of us took a different level of responsibility for things going wrong: some of us blamed ourselves, others were more inclined to put the onus on others.

In the conversation which followed, about deliberations around access to and within Dalton Hall, we explored the ideal of "giving people access to what they need," in tension with levels of liability and accountability (should students have access to all dorms on campus? how monitor the problems of "piggy-backing?" would a better system monitor out-access as well as in-access?). We learned the cost of OneCard ($10,000/door) and reflected on the controversies that arise when "you can't get in!": in the heat of the moment, few of us are able to get beyond our emotional frustration and irritation with a system that doesn't accomodate our immediate needs.

Some of the larger philosophical reflections that arose included the observations that

  • this is not "our" space; it is the College's space, and we are "renting," or paid to work here, so the language of "ownership" (of one's office, for instance), and the accompanying assumptions about rights, are inappropriate
  • we are "nostalgic" for another, "safer" time, when (we imagine) that these spaces were more easily accessible
  • we have an ideal of a college as a "city on a city," an ideal place that is "not part of the world"; monitoring access challenges that ideal, and threatens our sense of what the character of a college should be.
When the discussion ended, I had lots of further questions. One in particular involved what I saw as a contradiction between the suggestion that (in our imagined role as dean) we might lie to an anxious parent, assuring her that we can keep her child safe (why make her needlessly anxious? things will probably be alright) and the observation that we need to give up our nostalgic ideal of the College as a safe place apart from the world. Perhaps we should not "lie," not only to our students' parents, but to ourselves?

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