Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Last Sunday on my undergrad's campus, all the freshwomen lined up in the Cloisters and got their Lanterns. This year's class is red. Just like mine, Just like my sisters. (Four year rotation, light blue, red, dark blue, green). Sophomores give the freshmen their lanterns, while the juniors and seniors direct the whole thing. This is the second of of the four main traditions that frame the year.
Bryn Mawr, for better or for worse, is deeply entrenched in its traditions. The lantern is probably one of the most positive traditions, representing your alligences to particular graduating or incoming classes and embodying your "Bryn Mawr Experience". Beginning in 1901, it has had bumps along the way, such as metal and money shortages during WWII meaning no new lanterns for the new students, but is still one of the most exciting evenings of the school year.
Some people say that if you do something more than once at Bryn Mawr, it becomes a tradition. While close to true, this has luckily not held for some of Bryn Mawr's bleaker traditions, some on which the institution was founded.
Springing from our discussion on monday, I got thinking about why it is important to discuss the motivations and situations under which an institution was founded. Seeing all the facebook congratulations to the incoming class of 2013 for their lanterns just got things moving.
Bryn Mawr was founded in 1885, in simple terms, so that women would be able to earn PhDs in the US and not have to go to Europe. The main impetus to that is this woman:
Ms. M Carey Thomas, the first dean, and second president.
And besides looking like she will consume your soul for dinner (which really, I wouldn't put it past her), she was fiercly intellegent, incredibly determined, greatly motivated...and an incredible classist and bigot.
Now, those first three adjectives sum up your typical "Bryn Mawr Woman", and Thomas's tradition lives on. However, because Bryn Mawr keeps the situation of its founding in mind, the last have not become part of a Mawter's daily life. Thomas would scoff at the idea that 80% of students hold a job to help pay for college, that most do not come from wealthy backgrounds, and many are not white. Bryn Mawr is acutely aware of the pretenses under which Thomas molded the institution in its early years, and keeps it in mind while molding the institution today. Bryn Mawr students often take pride in their on-campus jobs, and while diversity continues to be a heated subject, the school takes a proactive approach to separate itself from its founding views.
I am exceptionally happy for the traditions that Bryn Mawr chose to keep throughout these years; they made my college experience more than I could have ever asked for. Bryn Mawr would be tearfully dull and two demensional without its history, and I am very grateful that the college has kept its history, both the lanterns and the bigots, in mind over the last 125 years.